Lunch Break begins construction phase for new facility
A groundbreaking ceremony was expected to be held at 4 p.m. Friday – March 14 is the organization’s 31st anniversary – and construction of a three-story, 6,300-square foot building is to begin immediately.
While the existing facility has ably served the community, it is no longer large enough to accommodate the needs of a growing population base.
“As community needs continue to rise and with no signs of abating, our operations have outgrown its present home,” said Mark Brahney, president of the Lunch Break Board of Trustees. “Due to a severe lack of space, we are forced to rent off-site administrative offices and warehousing facilities in Red Bank and Tinton Falls. This expansion will enable us to finally bring together all our programs and services under one roof.”
The work is the first of a three-phase plan.
The Phase 1 work actually began last fall when buildings on two pieces of adjacent property, donated by the Gmelich family of Rumson, were demolished.
Construction will begin on the planned two-story building which will have a basement connected to the existing Lunch Break facility. The basement will house a 650-square-foot clothing boutique, a maintenance office, restrooms and a 900-square-foot sorting and storage area for clothing operations. The first floor will contain a 740-square-foot choice food pantry, reception and waiting areas, private social service and intake offices, donation drop, restrooms, stairs and an elevator. The second floor will house administrative offices, a conference and meeting room, and data stations.
After completion of Phase 1 in about eight months, the existing facility will be renovated for Phase 2. That work will include almost doubling the seating capacity in the dining room. The original kitchen will be gutted, making way for a new, larger and more functional kitchen. The basement will be cleared and redesigned for efficient food storage and sorting. Phase 2 is expected to be somewhere from eight to 12 months.
Phase 3 includes the purchase of additional property which will provide critical storage space that will expand the clothing boutique and include a volunteer room, an off-hours donation drop room, as well as a full-size truck loading dock.
Lunch Break has come a long way since March 1983 when it started in the basement of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Red Bank. As community demand increased, Lunch Break moved into the Masonic Celestial Lodge No. 36, and then, in 1986, relocated to its current home on the corner of Drs. James Parker Boulevard and Bridge Avenue.
The donation of the adjacent properties by the Gmeliches in 2011 allowed Lunch Break to pursue its dream of expanding and upgrading the existing facility to meet present and future needs.
In 2012, Lunch Break embarked on a $5 million dollar capital campaign, Step Up to the Plate, to raise funds for the construction of a new building, upgrades to the existing facility and the purchase of additional property for a larger, safer, more efficient facility. A portion of the $5 million campaign goal is for a capital reserve to ensure the long-term financial stability of Lunch Break.
“The number of people served by Lunch Break over the last five years has increased at a compound annual rate of 10 percent, creating the need for additional space and a more functional facility,” said Bonnie Featherstone-Johnson, a member of the Board of Trustees and chairwoman of the capital campaign. “For almost three decades, we have operated from our current 6,000-square-foot building. The size, shape, and design of our new facility directly relates to the number of people we serve.
“After nearly 30 years in our current building, it’s time for a new home – a home that allows us to serve, with dignity and compassion, the thousands of people depending on us every month,” Featherstone-Johnson said.
Lunch Break started by serving hot lunches to Red Bank residents.
“Today our reach has expanded and we serve our most vulnerable neighbors who come to Lunch Break from every town in Monmouth County and from as far away as Ocean, Middlesex and Essex counties,” said Gwendolyn O. Love, Lunch Break executive director. “Last year, we served over 61,000 hot meals. Our food pantry provides, on average, groceries to over 750 families every month. Our volunteers deliver meals to the homebound six days a week.
“In addition, we have a clothing distribution center that includes our Suited for Success program which provides business attire for job interviews. We also have an adopt-a-family holiday toy program, a children’s cooking class and a gardener’s market that is held every Tuesday morning, year round, and distributes fresh produce. We offer Internet services, employment information, social-health and wellness resources,” Love said.
“Equally important,” Featherstone-Johnson stressed, “is the fellowship found at Lunch Break, not only experienced by our guests, but by our donors, staff and volunteers. The strong sense of community everyone feels when they walk through our door is overwhelming. We not only feed the body, but we nourish the soul. We do all of this with just nine full-time and six part-time staff and with the help of over 2,000 dedicated and passionate volunteers, 75 who come into our facility on a daily basis in rotating shifts. To define Lunch Break is to define the meaning of community.”
Organizers of Lunch Break’s Step Up to the Plate campaign are overwhelmed by the community support for the project, which achieved its financial goal to begin Phase 1 in just under a year. To date, Lunch Break has raised more than $2 million in cash, property and pledges toward the campaign, which includes a lead gift of $500,000. Nearly 10 percent of the cost for Phase 1 and 2 has been funded directly through personal, individual contributions by the Lunch Break Board of Trustees.
Those interested in participating in Step Up to the Plate can donate or get additional information by contacting Kate McMahon at 732-747-8577, ext. 3103.