Lunch Break is celebrating 30 years and thriving
RED BANK – It was a frigid night in January 1983, when 35 people gathered at the Friends Meeting House in Shrewsbury to discuss the issue of hunger in Monmouth County.
That night they committed themselves to helping community members in need who found it difficult to provide life’s basic necessities, such as food and clothing, for their families. Galvanized into action, the group, which included churches and businesses, began to raise funds and recruit volunteers.
Two months later, Lunch Break opened as Monmouth County’s first soup kitchen when the Rev. Terrence Rosheuvel generously provided space in the basement of Saint Thomas Episcopal Church in Red Bank to serve meals. The first hot lunches were served on March 14, 1983.
As food donations began pouring in, Rosheuvel offered the basement of his home to store food and that became known as the Lunch Break Pantry. Not long after, a group of women from Congregation B’Nai Israel in Rumson came to volunteer and asked if clothing was needed. Rosheuvel said “yes” and very soon thereafter a pickup truckload of clothes was added to the food in Rosheuvel basement.
In 1985, as renovations began at Saint Thomas Church, the Masonic Celestial Lodge No. 36 in Red Bank enthusiastically welcomed Lunch Break and provided a temporary home for Lunch Break to serve meals. Lodge members were so happy to be members of the growing Lunch Break family that they wore T-shirts proclaiming “I Love Lunch Break.” At the same time, Lunch Break expanded its services to include the distribution of groceries to families.
Community demand quickly increased beyond the capacity of the Celestial Lodge, and Lunch Break leaders began to investigate the construction of a permanent, independent facility. In 1986, through combined efforts of many generous contributors and a large grant from the State of New Jersey, Lunch Break opened the doors to its own facility at 121 Drs. James Parker Boulevard in Red Bank.
In summer 1983 Norma Todd succeeded Nancy Stine as director, and for 25 years was the heart and soul of Lunch Break. Upon her death in April 2008, she left a legacy of acceptance, love and determination. Shortly thereafter, Gwendolyn Love was hired as the new executive director and Love has continued Lunch Break’s mission to alleviate hunger and freely provide life’s basic necessities – food, clothing and fellowship for community members and lead those who Lunch Break serves to self-sufficiency and healthier lifestyles.
To celebrate the 30th anniversary, Lunch Break is holding an open house from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, March 14, at its 121 Drs. James Parker Boulevard building. The theme is A Walk Down Lunch Break Memory Lane. There will be refreshments, a collection of photos, documents, and newspaper articles from the early days plus music and a chance to reminisce about experiences with the beloved organization.
“Ours is a history that spans three decades, deep and wide with compassion, stewardship, efficiency and service,” Love said. “Each and every day I see more people from all backgrounds walk into our door hungry, disillusioned, lonely and scared. They are children, the elderly, the disabled, the unemployed and underemployed, single mothers, veterans, and yes, people just like me and you who are facing tough times.
“Why do they turn to Lunch Break? Because Lunch Break touches their lives, giving hope where there was none and direction to those who are lost. Because they know we treat everyone with dignity and compassion. Because our fellowship is free and so are our services,” Love said.
“Last year we served nearly 57,000 hot lunches; delivered 8,580 meals to the elderly, disabled, ill and weak homebound; distributed 1,200 gifts over the holiday season to underprivileged children; provided 1,829 holiday food baskets to families for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter; and distributed over 7,624 food packages from our food pantry,” Love said. “Our Suited for Success program outfitted 125 individuals for job interviews and special occasions. In addition, we graduated 106 children from our Kid’s Cooking Class, offered adult demo cooking classes, knitting lessons and ESL classes and offered community dinners. In addition to the hot lunches served during the weekdays, in 1992, and still to this day, Saint Leo the Great Catholic Church in Lincroft, provides over 150-bagged lunches every Saturday for Lunch Break patrons.
“Lunch Break is today so much more than a meal to so many and has become one of Monmouth County’s most vital social service partners,” she said. “We partner with over a dozen social service organizations who provide health screenings, visual testing, job support, legal assistance, affordable housing referrals, veterans assistance and SNAP (food stamp) assistance at Lunch Break. We also provide an Internet café for job seekers. Lunch Break was instrumental in providing immediate relief and recovery assistance to hundreds affected by Super Storm Sandy. We are able to do all that and more, free of charge, because of our 1,200 dedicated volunteers and the continued support we receive from our donors.
“As Mrs. Todd said in the early 1980s, Lunch Break is so much more than just giving food or clothes to people – our fellowship is equally important,” Love said. “Sometimes I feel that the most important thing that Lunch Break does is to bring people together. We offer fellowship to all who come through our door and even to those who are hungry and unable to come to Lunch Break, so we bring it to them.”
During the past 30 years although much has remained the same, much has changed.
“Today we are still in the same facility built nearly 30 years ago and, although it has served us well, we have outgrown it. In the past year alone there has been on average a 400 percent across-the-board increase in demand for our services,” Love said. “We are now working beyond capacity and bursting at the seams. In order to continue to serve our clients and our community, we have exciting plans for the future of Lunch Break that will ensure our presence in the community, not only today, but for decades to come.”