January 21, 2015
Cassidy DeStefano, Correspondent
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) has emerged at the forefront of the public eye through media initiatives such as last summer’s popular ice bucket challenge and the November release of the Oscar-nominated film “The Theory of Everything,” which documents the life of physicist Stephen Hawking as he copes with the condition commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
However, CEO Richard J. Saker of Howell-based Saker ShopRites Inc., in conjunction with executive director Sean Magovern of The Joan Dancy and People with ALS (PALS) support group, are spreading awareness about the neurodegenerative disease on a more local level.
The team hosted its ninth annual benefactor luncheon and check presentation on Jan. 16 at the Route 37 ShopRite in Toms River. Attendees included Saker’s brothers and son, ShopRite workers and ALS patient Pat Mongiardini joined by her husband Harold. The couple accepted the $210,000 check on behalf of the organization.
“This luncheon is the perfect combination of a grassroots community effort and corporate sponsorship,” Magovern said.
The Joan Dancy and PALS support group found its roots when Magovern’s father befriended Dancy’s fiancé before diagnosis. One of Dancy’s last wishes was that her loved ones continue to provide care and early funding to the affected population.
Magovern added that the group’s primary goal is to administer at-home physical and emotional assistance for ALS patients, as well as to establish a point of reference that neurologists and general practitioners may be unable to provide.
VARIETY OF HELP
Saker listed some of the organization’s direct services to patients, which include writing checks for loan medical equipment, facilitating the installation of home ramps, and seeking funding through various insurance programs.
The joint foundation began serving those affected in Monmouth, Ocean, Middlesex and Mercer counties, but it has since expanded to Somerset and Union counties, covering a wide array of socioeconomic backgrounds.
“Need is all relative,” Saker said. “Someone who is destitute as compared to someone who is affluent still requires proper care.”
Social worker Kathy Valentino, who was previously employed as a hospice worker, added that there is no time constraint in regard to patient services.
Mongiardini spoke highly of the personalized care that the support group provides.
“From the first conversation I ever had with them, they’ve been so supportive,” she said. “Talking to them helped me to know what my future needs would be.”
Mongiardini’s aides visit her Toms River residence once a month to conduct safety checks, and they have provided her with necessities including a walker and a chair lift.
Each year, the luncheon takes place at one of the 29 participating ShopRites, depending on which store location raised the most for the foundation. Year round, customers can choose to donate an amount between $1 and $4 at checkout, which is then matched by the organization, Saker said.
Over the course of its existence, the team has raised over $1.8 million for cases with future patients.
“It was nice of them to think of me to represent the people who have ALS at this year’s event,” Mongiardini said. “They help with the little things and they’re just wonderful.”
Her spouse agreed.
“They give people like us hope and faith in humanity,” he said.
For more information, visit the ShopRite of Route 37-Toms River Facebook page.