As Lunch Break endeavors to support the mounting requests from those seeking basic necessities and job skills training, a dream to expand its current, overcrowded facility came to fruition during a momentous groundbreaking ceremony on April 28, 2022, at the facility, 121 Drs James Parker Blvd. in Red Bank.
During the ceremonial event, which commemorated the founding principles and mission of this 39-year-old social service organization, while touching on its future direction, Lunch Break welcomed NJ First Lady Tammy Murphy, among the many state and local dignitaries and leaders, community members, and Lunch Break Board, staff and volunteers offering their support of the expansion. Live stream of the groundbreaking ceremony can be found on Facebook @lunchbreaknj.
The groundbreaking was the first major step in a $12 million Capital Campaign expansion, which received unanimous approval from the Red Bank Zoning Board in 2021. Construction is expected to begin in summertime 2022, during which operations, including meal and Client Choice Pantry services, warehouse, administration and development, will be temporarily relocated. Client services are expected to continue uninterrupted. Updates on construction progress and Lunch Break services will be posted to www.lunchbreak.org and Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, @lunchbreaknj.
Lunch Break last year continued to witness a rise in demand for groceries, and an increase in visitors arriving for Continental breakfast and lunch, served six days a week, and Friday Community Dinners. The resource center sought this expansion to advance its mission to meet the unrelenting need experienced both prior to and during the pandemic.
“As we’ve said since the beginning, Lunch Break will not miss a meal and we will honor this promise throughout the construction process,” said Executive Director Gwendolyn Love.
Many in our community are facing hardship as a result of the COVID-19 economic fallout. Whether because of unemployment, underemployment, homelessness or trying to survive on fixed incomes, the number of community members struggling with food and financial insecurities continues to escalate. Adding to their financial burdens is the lack of access to affordable, nutritious groceries, with Red Bank and several neighboring communities having recently been designated as food deserts by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, areas where residents face a chronic struggle to find healthy eating options. The list of municipalities covers 1.5 million people living in all 21 of New Jersey’s counties, according to the NJEDA.
The state’s total population was 9.29 million as of the 2020 Census. The communities mentioned all are facing varied problems, according to published reports. Some do not have enough healthy options at local supermarkets, while others are oversaturated with fast food restaurants. And then there are those communities lacking adequate public transportation for people without cars to get to the grocery store.
The trends Lunch Break has seen mirror the national and state picture: 38 million Americans experienced hunger in 2020, and in the continuing COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., 42 million people,13 million of them children, may face hunger in the coming months.
But while our kitchen served more than 89,000 grab-and-go meals during 2021, and our Client Choice Pantry provided more than 19,000 grocery pickups, as well as scores of meal deliveries made to the homebound and displaced families, Lunch Break does so much more.
As many as 100 people a month attend our Life Skills Center’s coaching sessions, and, in 2021, more than 30 participants per month went on to get jobs. The Life Skills Center in Shrewsbury is home base for a wide array of training services, from resume review and GED testing prep, to ESL and tutoring for people of all ages. The services include training for job interviewing and public speaking, sharpening computer skills, household budgeting and goal planning, among others.
Among some of the many Lunch Break success stories is Life Skills Center graduate and Haitian immigrant Lutencia Sainvilus-Joseph. The Life Skills team was pleasantly reacquainted with this familiar participant during a recent trip to the Brookdale Community College Job Fair.
Community partner Seabrook Senior Living had nothing but praise for their star employee Lutencia, a hard-working assistant, among some of the initial participants in the Life Skills Program. Lutencia, one of the first ESL students in coach Millie Diaz’s class, completely turned her life around by dedicating herself to English language studies in the hope of improving her employment skills. Not only did she improve her English skills, Lutencia went on to receive her U.S. citizenship and eventually gained the necessary employment expertise to impress the Seabrook recruiters. Now she is a valued member of their team, according to the company’s health service recruiter.
And by learning how to budget her finances, Lutencia saved enough salary to purchase a new home, and also is committed to studying for her nurse practitioner license, as well as volunteering for non-profit MDCC5 to help the organization in its efforts to improve the healthcare and infrastructure for members of her beloved Haitian community.
Additionally, Lunch Break last year launched the Alliance For Success program, a youth initiative for at-risk junior and senior high school students in need of college prep guidance or vocational training, as well as a nutrition program designed to offer clients and guests more healthy grocery and meal options as a means to preventive healthcare and community wellness.
Lunch Break also is prepared to help people with other critical needs, including the COVID-19 Emergency Fund which, since last year, provided financial assistance and gift cards to help more than a thousand individuals pay urgent living expenses, including utility bills.
To those seeking assistance from Lunch Break, Mrs. Love offers a promise of hope: “There are no limits to what you can do and become. If you are willing to do the work, we will help you get through barriers so you can achieve your best life. Your success is a success for the whole community.”
The expansion of Lunch Break’s cramped quarters will enable volunteers and staff to serve more people, more efficiently, and to more safely accept truck deliveries and individual donations.
Lunch Break began a Capital Campaign in 2021, with a goal of raising $12 million in donor contributions. The $12 million cost estimate is based on a comprehensive facility requirement study. With the generous support of individuals, foundations, and businesses, Lunch Break is nearing its goal.
The groundbreaking was a culmination of many hands working together to bring this vision to life. I’m so proud to be a part of Lunch Break’s continuously evolving journey to better serve the community,” said Mrs. Love.
To better accommodate Lunch Break services and new initiatives, including the merger with non-profit Family Promise of Monmouth County, as well more warehouse and operations space, the plans, prepared by architects Kellenyi Johnson Wagner, call for a two-story addition which, in total, will add 13,710 square feet to the building’s original 12,300 square-foot design, providing for a loading dock and more space for truck parking and safer and easier off-loading of deliveries.
Lunch Break’s Board, staff and 2,000-plus volunteers have worked tirelessly to meet the surging need for food, basic home necessities, and for job and life skills training — all provided free of charge — even during the worst periods of the pandemic. The renovation will help the resource center better serve clients in Monmouth County and beyond, and to welcome new visitors suffering hardship and urgent need.
To donate to the Capital Campaign: https://donatenow.
Lunch Break is a registered 501© 3 nonprofit. The resource center freely provides food, clothing, social services, fellowship and life skills to those struggling with financial insecurity as a path to well-being and self-sufficiency.
For updates, follow Lunch Break on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. #whywebreak #givelocal.