Feature photo of Dominic Mercado (c), at his fundraising birthday pasta party in April. Photo courtesy of Carlos Mercado
BY CLYDE HUGHES | AC JosepH Media
VINELAND — If someone would ask Dominic Mercado what gits he received for his birthday, the 14-year-old won’t share stories of the latest video game or new tech device but stories of how he got a chance to help others in his community.
For the past three years at the family home at 942 East Grant Avenue on April 9, the eighth grader at Sgt. Dominick Pilla Middle School bypassed a birthday celebration and held a fundraising “pasta party” for those in need.
Now, the incoming freshman who will attend Cumberland County Technical Education Center in the fall, has continued his philanthropy every birthday since, inspiring others to do the same along the way.
The idea started in 2020 in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic where many businesses were closed and the public was asked to shut in. When discussing with the family what to do on his birthday that year despite the closures, Dominic said he would rather do something to help others shut in.
The idea of the pasta fundraiser and donation to a local soup kitchen, run by Spirit and Truth Ministries in Vineland, was born.
“It’s my birthday! I’m having a pasta party to support the soup kitchen. I’m collecting pasta and sauce. Thank you,” says a sign Dominic posted in front of the home at the time.
“In the first year, we set up a table in front of the house two days before my birthday,” Dominic told Front Runner New Jersey/La Prensa. “By the third day, somehow the Gov. [Phil] Murphy called and made an announcement during his daily [COVID-19] press briefing. Before you knew it, we had hundreds of cars lined up and down the road.”
Carlos Mercado, a captain with the Vineland Fire Department, said the event for the past two years has now taken on a life of its own through just Facebook posts, followed by other local media.
“They shared it and the people just showed up this year we were able to fill up a box truck and on top of that, raised an extra $2,000,” Mercado said.
The elder Mercado said he was “very proud” not only of his son’s selfless act, but his dedication to continue the effort annually to help local residents.
And, it has caught on.
Mercado said the news of his son’s effort has been highlighted by other media outlets and even made a speech by a student in Las Vegas, who used it as an example of how young people were giving back during the pandemic. Mercado learned about that speech because a friend living there was in the audience when the speaker mentioned his son’s event.
The event has become a family affair with Dominic’s mother Kristi and older brother Sebastian taking part as well.
Dominic has already made a habit of shining in all situations. Last month, he gave the commencement speech upon graduating from Pilla Middle School and received the school’s biggest honor, the Sgt. Dominick Pilla Award.
He also earned the prestigious Sgt. Giolio Giuliani Outstanding and Devoted Service Award by the Vineland Police Department. In April, both Dominic and Sebastian, a high school student-athlete, were recognized by the Cumberland County Commissioners for the pasta party.
Dominic Mercado has learned at a young age how to change the world with a gesture of giving.
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