The complex in Toms River, one of the hardest-hit towns in the 2012 mega-storm, includes a food bank, restaurant and culinary school and offers free guidance on tax returns, health care and public benefits.
The frontman and namesake of Bon Jovi, who has sold some 130 million albums, and his wife Dorothea put up funding to start the B.E.A.T Center — standing for “Bringing Everyone All Together” — situated in a strip-mall.
He told a ribbon-cutting ceremony that it would provide “not only a healthy meal, but in fact a place that creates community.”
Food banks have been distributing more than twice as much produce in Ocean County, whose seat is Toms River, since Hurricane Sandy, with families suddenly finding that they cannot always afford food staples.
“These are hard-working, blue-collar, middle-class people who go to work every day. But the need for people to make ends meet — (being) food insecure — was already there. This just exacerbated it,” Bon Jovi told reporters.
Bon Jovi said that such volunteer efforts could help address hunger, adding that the problem as not just in New Jersey.
“When there are 15 percent of children going to bed hungry at night in a nation like the United States, these aren’t issues that need a scientist to find a cure,” he said.
The complex’s restaurant, called the JBJ Soul Kitchen, is the second for Bon Jovi after one that opened in 2011 in Red Bank to the north.
Patrons at the restaurant pay either by volunteering in the kitchen or donating at least $10.
US Representative Tom MacArthur, whose district includes the area, applauded the approach, saying he did not know who was in need when he dined at the Red Bank location, which is about to serve its 50,000th meal.
“That’s what we have to do. We have to meet the need, we have to do it effectively. But we have to make sure that people have dignity when they’re getting help,” MacArthur said.
Goya Foods, a top producer aimed at US Hispanics and based in New Jersey, has agreed to donate 2,200 pounds (1,000 kilograms) of food each week, said Patricia Donaghue, head of the Peoples Pantry established after Sandy.
She hailed the donation as an “absolute game-changer” in ensuring the pantry’s future.