MILFORD - Beth-El Center interim Director Helen Loughlin says she was not overly surprised last summer when several homeless people living on the city streets approached her staff and requested permission to use the shelter's bathroom facilities to shower.

The center is always filled to capacity with 32 men, women and children. Despite this, the staff attempted to accommodate at least the hygienic needs of additional homeless people who were not able to stay at the center.

While the accommodation did not work out for the long-term, Loughlin said, the need does help illustrate the frequency and severity of homelessness in the community. She later found out that some homeless people were referring each other to a local truck stop where they could pay to be allowed to take a shower. Now, Loughlin said, the center intends to become more tenacious in raising money.

"This year, we are holding our most ambitious gala event to date in an effort to raise at least $20,000 for the center, as well as to honor two individuals who have been instrumental to the success of Beth-El," she said.

Gala Chairwoman Joanne Byrne, of Orange, who is a member of the Beth-El board of directors, said she worked with 12 devoted volunteers during the last nine months to help organize the gala.

Community leaders to be honored at the event are Howard Treat, former president of The Milford Bank and Bob Macklin, current president of the bank.

Treat, also an Orange resident, was president of the bank when Beth-El's sponsor organization, the Combined Parishes Action Committee, was incorporated into a private, nonprofit organization in 1985. He helped CPAC, a coalition of 16 area churches, work through financial challenges so the group could open the Beth-El soup kitchen in the St. Peter's Episcopal Church parish hall on River Street. Two years later, on Christmas Eve, CPAC opened a shelter for homeless men, women and families.

Under Treat's guidance, Milford Bank later helped CPAC finance the purchase of the old Milford Manufacturing building at 90 New Haven Ave., which today houses the soup kitchen and shelter. Now retired from the bank, Treat is still active in the community as chairman of both the Milford Hospital board and Milford Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Loughlin said Macklin and the bank are instrumental players in Beth-El's efforts to reduce homelessness through shelter services.

The Beth-El gala benefit will be held 6 to 10 p.m. Jan. 22 at Lauralton Hall, 200 High St. The event will feature a silent auction and the dance music of String of Pearls, a 17-piece band.

Wine, hors d'oeuvres, mini-buffet, dessert and coffee will be available. Tickets are $75 per person and must be purchased in advance. Dress is festive. All proceeds will benefit Beth-El.

Anyone not able to attend the gala but willing to contribute to the center, can send checks, money orders or silent auction contributions such as gift certificates for services or events, to Combined Parishes Action Committee, 90 New Haven Ave., Mil-ford 06460.

For reservations or additional information, call Byrne 799-9926 or 876-0747