Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., center is joined Oct. 29 in a ribbon-cutting service for Seeds of Service, Brick. From left, Father Edward Blanchett, pastor of Brick’s Visitation Parish; Brick Mayor John Ducey; Brenda Rascher, executive director of the diocesan Office of Catholic Social Services; Father James O’Neill, pastor of St. John Parish, Lakehurst, and former parochial vicar of Visitation Parish; and Brick Township Councilman Jim Fozman. Dorothy K. LaMantia photos
On the sixth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., joined staff and supporters of Seeds of Service to celebrate its official opening at 725 Mantoloking Road in Brick.
Approximately 80 volunteers, clients, clergy and township officials gathered Oct. 29 to celebrate the official unveiling of Seeds of Service, the successor organization to the services provided through Visitation Relief Center, a community outreach effort born out of Brick’s Visitation Parish that hit the ground running when thousands of area residents lost their homes in the 2012 storm.
“We are very much mindful of all the hard work that has gone into this day,” said Bishop O’Connell, who was introduced by Father Edward Blanchett, pastor of Visitation Parish.
“Seeds of Service is a most appropriate name for this project,” Bishop O’Connell said, thanking Christie Winters, founding director, “for her determination, her perseverance, strength of mind, heart, spirit and faith, which have helped her endure some ups and downs. We are very proud of her, the board and those who have contributed service that have made this day possible.”
Blessing a Crucifix and an image of the Holy Family, which will be displayed in the facility, the Bishop prayed for God’s blessing on “the seeds of service sown here, the work that will be done here, and the love that will be shown here. Bless this place and all of us who are here to serve and those who come here in need.”
The assembly moved to the front porch for the cutting of the ribbon skirting much of the building’s façade. Bishop O’Connell cut the central ribbon, while volunteers, staff and community partners cut the ribbons flanking the center.
A festive reception with refreshments followed as those in attendance had the opportunity to tour the building.
Building Upon Mission
In October 2016, the Visitation Relief Center building closed its doors due to building code deficiencies. Since that closing and with a similar mission in mind, the nonprofit Project S.O.S. Seeds of Service Inc. was formed and has applied for 501(c)(3) status; it opened its doors unofficially over the summer.
In its effort to reach families and individuals in need, Seeds of Service offers a food pantry, an online thrift shop and outreach programs. It has established partnerships with nonprofit, business and faith-based organizations such as Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton and the Foodbank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties as well as local schools.
Among its new initiatives is a sustainability mission to provide environmental projects to benefit the community.
“We have a garden that teaches our neighbors about the need of planting native plants, and we offer rain barrel workshops,” Winters said. “Now, 132 rain barrels are in the community to save water from running off into the bay.”
Winters enthusiastically led guests through the rooms of the facility, which include the open choice food pantry, family stores where clients can find household goods and clothing, a tool lending library, and a missions room where Seeds of Service hopes to house youth and young adult groups as they volunteer for service projects. Among those on the tour were Brenda Rascher, executive director of the diocesan Office of Catholic Social Services; Marlene Laó-Collins, executive director of Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton; Stephanie Peddicord, executive director of Lawrenceville’s Center for FaithJustice, and Brick Mayor John Ducey.
The second floor of the building is dedicated to a sales program where 14 special needs students from Brick Memorial and Brick Township High Schools operate a fashion sales program, which is top-rated on eBay.
Those who toured the facility offered words of praise.
“It is such a blessing that a service that started as a ministry has blossomed into a service nonprofit so needed by the community,” Rascher said. “It is a blessing to the Diocese of Trenton and an opportunity to work with young people, providing them opportunities for learning and service in keeping with our Catholic Social Teaching.”
Of the ministry, Bob Casale, Seeds of Service president, said, “No matter who walks in, they’re there to help.”
Mayor Ducey spoke highly of Visitation Parish, Brick, and the Seeds of Service building located on its property. “It is great to have such a facility where residents can come in time of need. … It is convenient, right in the center of town.”