A rain-soaked evening did not dampen the spirits of young philanthropists, who raised $37,000 to benefit Lunch Break’s Family Promise housing solutions and family counseling program during the Night Without A Bed fundraising/awareness event at Triumphant Church, Fort Monmouth.
Not only did 60-plus students raise vital funds, but they also learned firsthand about the plight of families and children experiencing homelessness every night. For those unable to find shelter in cars or buildings, living on the streets is a commonality. These families often are found among neighborhood street corners, sometimes huddled together, without protection from inclement weather and extreme temperatures.
Night Without A Bed, designed to bring community awareness to a persistent struggle many families face because of current economic conditions, employment constraints and a lack of affordable housing, featured interactive programs, music, and an opportunity for participants to spend the night in a makeshift shelter — a cardboard box or tent. In America, more than 3 million families and children are forced to live without housing; in Monmouth County, roughly 200 children are housing-insecure on any given night, according to government statistics.
“Night Without A Bed was a great experience. I experienced what some people go through every day, like having to sleep in random places,” said Jonathan Ramirez, a student at Memorial Middle School in Eatontown. “Knowing that people from Family Promise can change a community makes me want to do more things like this to make a difference.”
Reacting to the evening’s themes, a participant anonymously shared some insight during a journaling activity: “Today I had the chance to meet kind and compassionate people at Lunch Break. I learned a lot about what it truly means to care about others. I dream of a future where we can all live without worry about our necessities. Until that dream comes true, I am thankful for the good people who go the extra mile to lend their support.”
Family Promise Program Director Lenore Gibson-Pettiford commented on the swift team response to weather-related problems, which could have presented a logistical nightmare: “We had to quickly relocate an outdoor event to an indoor space because of inclement weather. We wanted to ensure our participants weren’t spending the night in rain-soaked cardboard boxes. Imagine how many individuals were unable to shelter indoors for the night.”
She continued: “Ninety-six people, including staff, volunteers and participants, slept in one room similar to a Code Blue shelter. Many people were unable to sleep and several complained of hunger. This is what people without homes or shelter face every night. We experienced it for one night only and it was, at times, uncomfortable and generally eye-opening.”
As a result of the Night Without A Bed experience, Mrs. Gibson-Pettiford hopes participants were given a window into the severity of the situations families are forced to endure because of extenuating circumstances.
Monies raised will go toward the social service resource center’s programs, such as food, clothing, emergency shelter, comprehensive case management, transportation, life skills training, and prevention/stabilization for families.
“We are extremely proud of our youth for stepping up to bring more attention to a growing affordable housing concern for our families. We thank them and our volunteers for making it a priority and encouraging their community members to be proactive in their own neighborhoods,” said Executive Director Gwendolyn Love.
The evening would not have been a success without generous support from sponsors Mario Venancio of Berkshire Hathaway Realty Services/Fox & Roach, Realtors; Merrick; Seaview The Jeep Store; Park Church; and Heritage House Sotheby’s International Realty. Lunch Break also thanks the Night Without A Bed volunteer team — committee leaders Jessica Stepanski and Gillian Sahadi and community members, including Rumson Fair Haven Regional High School student Tyler Izzo, who produced a video documentary of the event, and the SPC Band for providing the evening’s entertainment. Lunch Break also acknowledges the generosity of Triumphant Life Church for supplying the event venue.
For contributions to Lunch Break’s social service programs, please donate online at https://donorbox.org/night-
Lunch Break is a 501(c)3 organization located in Red Bank, NJ, providing food, clothing, housing solutions, life skills, and fellowship to residents of greater Monmouth County. All Lunch Break services are free. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. www.lunchbreak.org
Cover photo: Lunch Break Executive Director Gwendolyn Love; Development Director Jill Gwydir-Govel; Board member Jessica Stepanski; Administrative Assistant Gina Vastola; and Director of Administration Millie Jeter