Asbury Park Dinner Table serves the community

Asbury Park Dinner Table poster in April 2020
Asbury Park Dinner Table poster in April 2020

Community outreach series

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic we have had unprecedented amounts of disruption to our lives. Life as we know it is no more, and it may be a while before we get to a sense of normalcy. It is at a time like this that we must work together as a community.

Kathy Kelly
Kathy Kelly is owner of the Paranormal Museum in Asbury Park, NJ

Asbury Park is one of the coolest places along the Jersey Shore and has a great community and a great vibe in good times. What might that mean at a time like this?

Asbury Park Dinner Table, a NJ 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was created to address, mitigate, and reverse the economic and food crisis we are experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic by supporting local restaurants while feeding our neighbors as noted on the nonprofits official Facebook page.

Asbury Park has about 50 restaurants and bars. Businesses like co-founder, Kathy Kelly’s Paranormal Museum, Rebel Supply Co., and Interwoven have all formed a great working relationship with each other.

Asbury Park resident Alison Kolarik is a founder of the Asbury Park Dinner Table. Kolarik put together a team and started giving back to the larger community. She is usually called AK by everyone.

“Initially this all started when Kathy Kelly called Julie Andreola and Giuseppe ‘Joe’ Grillo when the take-out only order came down from Trenton,” AK said.

Alison Kolarik
Alison Kolarik is a founder of the Asbury Park Dinner Table

“Kathy acted quickly, rallying Julie and Joe,” said Kolarik. “And because I just happened to be there, looking for an apartment at the time and crashing on the Grillo couch—it happened. I work in graphic design, social media, and web design. So there were four keys: Kathy’s ideas and constant drive, Julie’s extensive background in navigating non-profit organizational structure, paired with Joe’s extensive experience in fundraising for Sustainable Jersey. We were working in tandem with his long list of civic and social connections, and my design and marketing skill set. I branded, set up the social channels, and then at a month into operations we launched

Within seven weeks, APDT raised over $100,000 and served over 16,000 meals to the people of Asbury Park. Reverend Semaj Vanzant, of Second Baptist Church of Asbury Park, also played an instrumental role in APDT. He helped coordinate for two additional churches as well—United Fellowship Baptist Church and St. Stephen’s AMEZ.

This is a prime example of the mantra, “one team, one fight.” APDT operates solely on donations, which is why every little bit counts.

Jersey Pride Inc., the official Jersey LGBTQ Pride Organization, also donated a generous amount to APDT. When asked about contributing to APDT, Jersey Pride Inc. President, Laura Pople said “For nearly 30 years, Jersey Pride has been producing an Annual Statewide LGBTQ Pride Celebration, and our partner in that effort has been our host city, Asbury Park. As the COVID-19 pandemic began careening out of control, Jersey Pride—like so many other prides—began exploring the impact of the pandemic on our pride planning. What was immediately clear was that the question as to whether or not to postpone was a straightforward one; for the safety of our community, we had no choice. With social distancing standards in place, our event could not be responsibly held in early June, and we moved our date to October 11, 2020—National Coming Out Day.”

Joe Grillo
Giuseppe ‘Joe’ Grillo

“However, Jersey Pride’s response to the pandemic did not end there. With a rescheduled pride date that was just the beginning. We felt compelled to help our community—within Asbury Park and beyond. As a pride organization, our mission is to celebrate, and support, the community. And what is clear is that right now the community needs the support of a different kind than we traditionally provide. The overlapping health crisis and economic crisis caused by this pandemic leave many in our community—our families, friends, and neighbors—at risk. We know many people are experiencing food insecurity and homelessness—conditions exacerbated by the impact of social distancing measures.

We also recognize the threat of exposure to COVID-19 among essential workers, the overwhelming physical and emotional burdens placed on health workers, and the challenges experienced in households now forced to juggle childcare, home education, telecommuting, and social isolation.

“Once Jersey Pride learned of the work that the Asbury Park Dinner Table is doing to address food insecurity in town, we made an initial donation of $1000 and this past weekend followed up with a second donation of $500. We are also using our network to encourage others to donate as well. During these very challenging times, we know that the way for all of us to get through this is to help each other out in whatever ways we can. And at Jersey Pride, we want to model that behavior.

Julie Andreola
Asbury Park Dinner Table co-founder Julie Andreola

“We are also acutely aware of the extraordinary efforts being made by health workers on behalf of those stricken by the virus. These tireless heroes fight for the lives of our loved ones, putting themselves at risk of infection by doing so. And they must serve as stand-ins for us with our loved ones because we cannot be in attendance. The physical and emotional drain on these individuals must be overwhelming. And yet they persist and return again the next day to do it once more. There are no thanks sufficient for their efforts but we at Jersey Pride wanted to try to acknowledge them, during what by all accounts is supposed to be a crushing week at hospitals. So, for the week of April 13, we donated 50-100 meals, each day, to hospitals near Asbury Park and within the hospital networks of two of our sponsors—RWJBarnabas Health and Hackensack Meridian Health”.

Poster in town for Asbury Park Dinner Table in April 2020
Poster in town for Asbury Park Dinner Table in April 2020

Since its inception, APDT has become a “go-to” not just for restaurants, but for businesses both big and small. There are more than a dozen restaurants participating, and the list grows daily.

So, how LGBTQ is APDT? “Well, I’m a lesbian. And Kathy Kelly, one of the co-founders is also a lesbian,” said Kollarik. “And, bonus: she’s co-chair of the Asbury Park Business Committee and owns several small businesses in town including Paranormal Book & Curiosities. Russell Lewis, another APDT Board Member, owns Watermark—which is objectively one of the most beautiful bars/lounges on the shore, maybe in the state. In Asbury Park, you’d be hard-pressed to find a business (though there are a few out there) that isn’t somehow involved in or part of the LGBTQ community.”

Meals from APDT are provided at Second Baptist Church, St. Stephens AMEZ, United Fellowship Baptist Church, and the Boys and Girls Club of America between the hours of 5:30 pm and 6:30 pm everyday. All meals are served on a first-come, first-serve basis.