A proposed plan includes demolishing the Mercy Center’s three buildings in Asbury Park and constructed one new modern facility.
By ED SALVAS
The Mercy Center in Asbury Park has outgrown its property and is planning to replace its three current buildings with a new modern structure with everything under one roof.
The center on Main Street currently operates in three small buildings between Third and Fourth Avenues which Executive Director Kim Guadagno says are too small and in some cases unsafe. In a presentation at the Nov. 8 City Council meeting, Guadagno proposed demolishing the three existing buildings with a single structure where it will be better able to carry out its mission.
The Mercy Center was founded in 1986 by the Sisters of Mercy, and run by Sister Carol Ann Henry. Over the years, it has expanded several times and now offers many social services and also has a food pantry that’s open five days a week. Guadagno has been the executive director since 2021 and cited some statistics about the center so far this year: 1.3 million pounds of food items, 66,367 people served, which will reach 80,000 by the end of 2023. It is the only food pantry of the many in Asbury Park that is open five days a week, and Guadagno says it is the heart of the Mercy Center Mission.
“Asbury Park is a food desert,” Guadagno said, with many residents who don’t drive and can’t get to markets outside the city. The Center’s buildings also have no handicap access and are all over 60 years old.
The expansion plan calls for a building with a total of 16,000 square feet with a cafe or coffee shop on the ground floor and 13 parking spaces. There will be a rooftop garden area for staff members and clients and a third level for the administrators who are now in rented space in Ocean Grove. Guadagno said they don’t yet have any renderings of the proposed new building.
Among several public comments on the Mercy Center plan, Ella Montgomery of Good News Radio, which operates WYGG 88.1 FM, said the center is a great help for its Haitian Creole speaking listeners who feel comfortable there. Guadagno said the Mercy Center staff is fluent in several languages, English, Spanish, Creole and Arabic.
Jim McLaughlin. a volunteer at the Mercy Center, said because the pantry space is limited, people must wait outside in all weather, but they do wait and are very appreciative of the Food Pantry’s existence.