Moving Stories Highlight Manna From Heaven’s Men of Distinction, Great Fathers Gala


Award-winning father Leston Hall speaks in front of crowd at the Men of Distinction Great Fathers Gala on Sunday, June 9, 2024.


PITTSGROVELeston Hall had a story to tell attendees at the Men of Distinction, Great Fathers Gala put on by Manna From Heaven on Sunday, and it involved him just being alive.

Hall, who was honored with 47 other men at the Father’s Day-themed event, told the audience about this time last year, he received two organ transplants, for a liver and heart. He said being able to stand in front of them on Sunday after being fortunate enough to receive the transplants and recover was overwhelming.

“So, standing before you right now is a miracle,” Hall said to the enthusiastic applause from the 400 attendees at the event. “Thank God, thank God, and thank God.”

Hall then gave a passionate plug for organ donations, particularly for African Americans, who statistically often find themselves on the waiting list longer than other racial groups.

“A lot of times, we [as Blacks] have this myth about being a donor. What they don’t understand is that one life can save six people. One life can affect 64 people. We have to take a look at that sometimes. We have to think about the lives that we may be saving.

“Of about 30,000 waiting for donors throughout the world, probably 20,000 are African American … Look at it as if it was one of your family members.”

Hall’s story was one of numerous, emotional, tear-watering stories told at the event, which goes to support Manna from Heaven’s mission of feeding the elderly and hungry locally.

Cofounder and executive director Angelia Edwards said the event is meant to highlight men not for what they do so much in their professional careers but for being “great fathers” and being a positive example for their families.

Manna From Heaven has held the gala for the past two years, drawing impressive crowds at The Grove at Centerton. The event carried special meaning for honoree and local realtor Eugene Kelley Jr., who brought his father, Eugene Kelley Sr. to the event.

The elder Kelley suffered a stroke just recently that needed surgery. He was determined, though, to see his son receive the award. The younger Kelley said the family had to do a little bit of convincing for his father to get the critical surgery but is glad it happened.

“I understand [my father’s resistance],” the younger Kelley told the audience. “We fought with him and he did have the surgery. He’s still recovering but he made it out here anyway. Thank you, Manna From Heaven for everything you do.”

The honorees received a plaque and other gifts from Manna From Heaven. The setting for the event was laid back and relaxed, where people from all walks of life were recognized, from elected officials and administrators to blue-collar workers and everyone in between.

Edwards said that is the beauty of the Distinguished Gentleman, Great Fathers Gala. Everyone has a chance to be a great father, regardless of their profession, schooling, and religion.

“This event is our opportunity to pay tribute to the men of southern New Jersey who have faithfully committed over the years in service to their families, churches, schools, and communities,” Edwards said.

“We celebrate these male role models who work tirelessly and make great sacrifices to help build a better way of life for the citizens in our region.”

Edwards personally thanked two of her honorees, James Hadley and Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly, pointing out how he took time out of his schedule to visit her mother Martha Price when she was ill and in a nursing home last year.

“He saw her in the nursing home almost as much as I did,” Edwards said. “In fact, he went there so many times, that people thought mom was a celebrity. I told them he was a friend and that he was friends with her before he became mayor.”

The full list of honorees included:

  • Ufuk Akilli
  • Bob Austino
  • Dennis Bundy
  • Bob Carlson
  • Joe Colvin
  • Mario Cortez-Cornish
  • Edwin Cruz
  • Rev. Thomas Dawson
  • Mike Derosas, posthumously
  • Rodney Eckeard
  • Richie Elwell
  • Ed Fentress
  • Robert Greco
  • Wayne Groetsch
  • Braheem Gunter
  • James Hadley
  • Leston Hall
  • Eugene Kelley
  • Greg Kellogg
  • Albert Kelly
  • George Linen
  • Ed Lingo
  • Doug Long
  • Rudolph “Skip” Luisi
  • Dr. Allan Martin
  • Raheem McClendon
  • Adrian McGriff
  • Aulton Stormy Mears
  • Rev. Benjamin Ocasio
  • Shelton Oliver
  • Shelvin Oliver
  • Sport Palmer
  • Isaac Patterson
  • Nelson Pierce
  • Rudolph Planter
  • Albert Porter
  • Zarko Rajacich
  • Kevin Rider
  • Antonio Romero
  • Michael Sanders
  • Michael Santiago
  • Carl Seabrook
  • Joe Sileo
  • Phil Silva
  • Steve Testa
  • Deionne Thrbak
  • Rev. Will Turner
  • Maurice Tyndell
  • Genaro Vasquez
  • Judge Jason Witcher
  • Kenneth Wright

Shawna French sang two numbers at the gala with citations given by NJ Assemblyman Antwan McClellan and Cumberland County Commissioners Victoria Groetsch-Lods, Douglas Albrecht, Antonio Romero and Joe Sileo with Clerk Celeste Riley.

Manna from Heaven is served by a dedicated board of directors that includes Edwards and mother Martha Price as founders, President Sam Hall, Vice President Chris Tavani, and board directors Joyce Allen, Vanessa Beals, Leslie Bridges-Evans, Sherman Denby and Becky Juzwiak.

Manna From Heaven’s Advisory Board members included: Darlene Barber, Karen Barnett, Donna Clark, Mike Eckmeyer, Richard Todd Edwards, Antwan McClellan, Dina Murray and Yvonne Sapp.

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