Gazebo Fundraising Effort At Halfway Mark; Sights Set On July 4 Opening

Bill Grippo speaks during the check presentation ceremony at the library.

Organizers of the effort to raise money for a proposed township gazebo took some time Dec. 14 to thank their donors, including one who got the ball rolling in a big way.

It was also announced at the event that the group’s goal is to have the gazebo ready for next year’s July 4th celebration.

More than $18,000 in donations were accepted during the event, which was held in a room in the children’s section of the township library in the municipal complex.

The largest chunk of that money – $15,000 – came from the Sodhani Foundation, a family foundation led by township resident Vimal Sodhani.

An additional $2,500 was donated by the Franklin Township Education Association, thanks to a grant the organization won, and $1,000 was donated by Peter Stavrianidis, owner of Venus Jewelers on Easton Avenue.

Bill Grippo, the lead fundraiser for the gazebo effort, said the group now has more than half of the estimated $40,000 to $50,000 that will be needed to build the structure.

“We need to get to above $40,000 before we have the township start laying the concrete and all that kind of stuff,” Grippo said.

“It would be great to have the gazebo ready for July 4,” he said. “We’re working for that. For that to happen, we have to start construction April or May.”

Plans are for the gazebo to be built on the lawn next to the township library.

Grippo said Philips Lighting Co., which is headquartered in the township, is “preparing a package” to provide lights for the gazebo that will highlight colors of various holidays.

Donations to the gazebo fund are tax-deductible, thanks to the East Millstone Historic Society agreeing to act as a flow-through organization for the fundraising effort. The gazebo will be gifted to the township when it is complete, but will be managed by the Franklin Township Cultural Arts Council.

Joining Grippo in leading the campaign are the council’s Michael Steinbrück and John Felix.

Grippo called Sodhani an “angel” for making his donation.

“His generosity is beyond words,” Grippo said. “Without Vimal’s foundation, we could not get the momentum to continue raising money.”

Grippo said the group also received $5,000 from an anonymous donor.

Sodhani said he and his family considers it important to help the community.

“We made our life here, we made our fortune here,” he said. “We took care of our family, now it’s time that we take care of the community. That’s the best that we can do before we take off from this world.”

Sodhani said he agreed to support the gazebo because of what it symbolizes.

“With this particular gazebo, I believe, we want to promote peace and harmony,” he said. “That impressed me the most. This will be the symbol in Franklin Township to promote peace and harmony. We want to have love and affection and helping each other. That was our motive for supporting this.”

Sodhani was brought into the effort by Mayor Phil Kramer, who said he just put the pieces of a puzzle together.

“All these things came to me,” he said. “As mayor, people come to you and you get to put things together. Nothing great on my part but the amazing vision and the amazing generation and the hard work, all these things came together to make it happen.”

Dan Mayer, president of the FTEA, said he and associate Renee Mengistab were “just very happy to be here tonight as Franklin embarks on another historic journey with this gazebo. We’re very proud to be a part of this; this gazebo will serve as a location for generations to come, using it in positive manners.”

Felix said the gazebo will serve as a “symbolic gesture of harmony” in the township.

The gazebo will allow the cultural arts council to present programming “that will allow us to support different groups,” Steinbrück said. “We’ll have events in different disciplines, the theater arts, poetry readings, art exhibits. There are lots of things that we can do.”

Here are some scenes from the evening:


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