The event held at Pen Ryn Mansion raised more than $160,000 for the Levittown-based location
By Samantha Bambino
It was a clear, serene evening at Bensalem’s Pen Ryn Mansion on Saturday, April 13 — the perfect backdrop for Family Service Association of Bucks County’s annual fundraising gala.
As the sun began to set on the waterfront property, hundreds of locals dressed to the nines ascended the stairs, serenaded by the jazz tunes of the Straight Ahead Little Band. Photographs were taken, wine was poured, and energy was at an all-time-high for good reason — all proceeds from the event would benefit the Bucks County Emergency Homeless Shelter in Levittown.
This was Family Service Association’s seventh annual gala since acquiring the shelter from the American Red Cross in 2012. According to Dina Della Ducata, the organization’s newly appointed CEO, the shelter costs approximately $3,000 a day to operate, which equates to more than $1 million a year. Though FSA receives county and state funding through grants, it still experiences an annual deficit of nearly $300,000. Therefore, donations from the community are critical to its operations.
“The purpose of this event is to support the men, women and families who turn to the Bucks County Emergency Homeless Shelter when they are without a home,” Della Ducata told attendees.
At any given time, the shelter, located at 7301 New Falls Road, is home to 75–80 people seeking temporary solace from living on the street or in their car. One-third of them are children. In addition to these residents, there are at least 50 waiting for a chance to get into the shelter, which operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In order for spots to open up, current residents need to move out of the shelter into safe, affordable, long-term housing.
Guests heard from Murielle Kelly, director of housing services, who explained exactly how this is done. Since the shelter is a program of Family Service, residents have access to all of the organization’s other programs, including case management, job search resources, budget planning, summer camp for children, mental health counseling and transportation to doctors’ appointments.
“This is why the shelter is so successful. We don’t just provide a bed and meals. We utilize all of our programs and services to treat underlying issues that contribute to homelessness,” Kelly said. “It’s an effort to enact lasting change and end homelessness for the families we serve.”
In 2012, individuals were staying at the shelter an average length of 170 days, and families were staying 195 days. Della Ducata shared some drastically improved statistics.
“In 2015, we had an average length of stay of 97 days, and in 2016 we decreased that to 79 days. In 2017, it was 72. And most recently, in 2018, we are proud to say the average length of stay was 61 days,” she said. “Shorter length of stay means more individuals we can serve over the course of the year.”
Last year, 513 residents were served, a dramatic increase from the total of 286 in 2015. Also in 2018, thanks to gala funding and community support, Family Service Association made a number of improvements to the shelter. It replaced eight HVAC units, renovated the children’s play area and dining room, and installed a sanitary food service line.
With this year’s proceeds, FSA plans to partner with local farmers to grow fruits and vegetables on-site, expand the shelter’s laundry facilities, replace another HVAC unit, and upgrade the flooring, plumbing and security cameras.
After dinner, during which guests had the option of a crab cake or vegetable wellington dish, Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick said a few words about the organization, and presented Della Ducata with a flag that was flown over the Capitol.
“What would we do without Family Service? They do so much good, more than you realize,” he said, explaining how he often refers locals to FSA when they call his office in need.
Della Ducata then hosted the live auction portion of the evening. Upon arrival, each attendee was handed a program book, which had a bid number printed on the back if they wished to participate.
Items up for grabs included a Philadelphia Eagles Fan Package, which went for $1,300; a four-day getaway for eight to Kiawah Island, South Carolina, which went for $3,000; two tickets to see Hamilton on Broadway, which went for $3,300; and a VIP Capitol tour and lunch for four with Fitzpatrick, which went for $3,000.
Interested bidders were also invited to raise their booklets and donate to a gift level of choice. For example, $2,000 helps provide 20 hours of case management services; $1,500 helps provide three meals a day and snacks for all 75 residents for one week; $1,000 helps provide a set of three privacy screens in the large, open dorm setting; and $250 helps provide two cribs for young shelter residents.
While donations are still trickling in, $160,000 in event proceeds have been counted so far. This is $10,000 more than FSA’s goal.
The gala concluded with coffee and desserts, followed by dancing and live music from the Straight Ahead Little Band featuring Shantel Hubert.
For more information on the Bucks County Emergency Homeless Shelter, visit fsabc.org. ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com