Photos Courtesy of WBMA TV/ Mayor Raymond McCarthy
By Ron Leir
It was sort of like a reenactment of that old TV show from the ‘50s, “The Millionaire.”
Except that the checks presented by Mayor Raymond McCarthy at the Bloomfield Municipal Building weren’t for a million bucks and everybody knew their benefactor.
But that didn’t matter: It was all for a good cause.
Last Thursday – nearly five months after McCarthy hosted his first annual Charity Gala at Nanina’s in the Park, Belleville – the mayor announced that of the approximately $35,000 raised at the affair, he was dispersing $20,500 to community organizations and holding the balance as a contingency fund.
“This is a big day for us,” McCarthy said, crediting all donors “who give back to the community for the family of Bloomfield.” And, in turn, by distributing the cash to agencies and organizations that help people in need, “We bring back normalcy to people.”
The biggest single beneficiary of the Gala largesse was the United Way of Bloomfield which received $12,500. “It’s been an integral part of this community for 50 years,” the mayor said, providing assistance to desperate folks to help pay for rent, mortgages and food, for example.
United Way Executive Director Ida Pafundi, who accepted the check, said the aid will be a shot in the arm for the agency’s several thousand clients served by 13 member organizations and, in particular, money spent for food. “There are an awful lot of people starving here in Bloomfield,” she said.
Pafundi thanked ShopRite for making available discounts for the needy.
McCarthy presented checks for $2,500 each to these groups:
Bloomfield Municipal Alliance, which helps troubled youths and organizes Christmas toy drives. They were represented at Thursday’s event by director Pat Marchese and police liaison Lt. James Behre.
Neighbor-to-Neighbor Network, a nonprofit agency that aids needy elderly with rent and utility payments, food and companionship, helps poor families by giving children books, backpacks and clothing and by helping parents with affordable day care. The group also provides shelter for animals. Karen Lore and Paul Peikis accepted the check for the group.
Photos Courtesy of WBMA TV/ Mayor McCarthy presents check to Director of Bloomfield Municipal Alliance, Pat Marchese, and Police Lt. James Behre, police liaison to the Alliance.
Bethel Church of Praise & Love, on Lawrence St., represented by Bishop Charles Harris and Elder Lewanda provides shelter for animals. Karen Lore and Paul Peikis accepted the check for the group. Bethel Church of Praise & Love, on Lawrence St., represented by Bishop Charles Harris and Elder Lewanda Pleasant, who runs the church’s food bank. They said their emergency food pantry services 22,000 people annually.
The other recipient of the mayor’s Gala proceeds was the Bloomfield Recreation Department, guided by Michael Sceurman. It was allocated $500.
McCarthy said the money will be used to subsidize the registration fees for kids whose families just can’t afford the price of admission to a department-sponsored play program.
“We have an enormous amount of single parents working two jobs a day,” the mayor said.
To accommodate them, the township offers those parents the option of “working the concessions” or putting in time in other ways to help support the recreation program and, in return, their kids are permitted to play, McCarthy said.
However, he added, taking time away from a job can be a luxury that lots of parents find a hardship.
So, to accommodate those hard-luck parents, Sceurman will be given the latitude of stretching the $500 gift to offset the cost of having those parents’ kids participate in a recreation activity instead of sitting, frustrated, on the sidelines, McCarthy said.
Inspiration for organizing the Gala came 11 years ago, right after his first election as mayor, McCarthy said.
“I was mayor maybe 15 minutes and I was beeped there was a fire on Thomas St.,” McCarthy said. Police and firefighters carried out the bodies of two young teens who perished in the smoke and flames and their mother couldn’t pay for their burial, he said.
“I made six phone calls and that got me back over $7,000 to bury those children,” McCarthy recalled. “But then, our police and fire (personnel) got our school kids to throw in nickels and dimes and (from that appeal), $65,000 was raised.”
After seeing the overwhelming generosity of the community, McCarthy said, “Janet (the mayor’s wife) and I decided, ‘We’ve got to have a fund to help people in this town.’ ’’
So, eventually, a board of trustees was formed and community members Marva Hanks, Warren Valentovich, Cathy Loretto, Rosemary Brown, Samantha DePalma and Janet McCarthy volunteered to serve on it.
”And we were successful,” McCarthy said.
The township’s business community also contributed and the mayor credited Investors Bank, PNC Bank, Provident Bank, Excel Credit, Bloomfield BMW and Bloomfield Center Urban Renewal for sharing their resources, along with bond counsel McManimon & Scotland, who set up the group as a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, eligible to accept charitable donations.
Already, preparations are under way to repeat the noble experiment.
“The next Mayor’s Gala Ball will be held Oct. 3 at The Manor in West Orange,” McCarthy told the small crowd assembled to celebrate the mission’s culmination last Thursday.