RED BANK, NJ– More than 300 Lunch Break supporters were reunited for a magical evening of entertainment under the stars to honor the selfless work of philanthropic community leaders on behalf of financially and food insecure community members during the 2021 Fall Gala “We Rise Together, Restoring and Rebuilding Lives” at the Basie Center for the Arts and Education on Friday, Oct. 15th, 2021.
The event was hosted by Jon Stewart of the Apple TV+ series, “The Problem With Jon Stewart.” The gala committee, co-chaired by Mimi Keenan and Tina Pflaster, coordinated the fundraiser’s fall harvest theme — an iconic nod to Lunch Break’s nutritious food service programs.
Guests were treated to musical performances by the Count Basie Brass C Sharps and the non-profit Jazz Arts Project, along with culinary creations catered by Willow & Sage. A live auction, including exciting adventures, featured get-away jaunts to Cabo San Lucas and Costa Rica; dinner in a trendy Manhattan restaurant and tickets to a premier performance at the Metropolitan Opera; and a gourmet pizza-making experience at the home of a Lunch Break supporter. Showtime goodies were donated by Chocolate Carousel, Long Branch and the Red Bank Chocolate Shop.
“Lunch Break provides an invaluable service to our community. It’s essential in normal times and its value has only grown in these difficult times,” said Jon Stewart of the organization’s efforts to feed community members struggling financially during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I’m always impressed by their compassion and thorough execution of not just food insecurity issues, but job training and overall life management support.”
Stewart added: “I’m hard pressed to think of a more worthy organization, especially given how they have risen to this unusual and challenging moment. We must now rise to meet them.”
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The evening was a window into the heart and soul of Lunch Break, the food and social services resource center at 121 Drs James Parker Blvd., with compelling testimonials from clients such as Chelsea Zamot and Dominique Faison, each of whom was facing homelessness, financial burdens and other challenging circumstances. They both were offered hope for a better tomorrow after receiving guidance and support from dedicated staff and volunteers.
Chelsea and Dominique revealed their life-changing stories in candid interviews. Young mother Chelsea was struggling under the weight of debt and unable to graduate college until the Life Skills team helped to reduce her debt so she could return to her studies. She is now a proud graduate of Rutgers University. Dominique, a lifelong Monmouth County resident and mother of nine and grandmother of five children, spent a portion of her life homeless. She was employed part time during those years and sought housing and emergency financial assistance from Family Promise of Monmouth County, an organization under the Lunch Break umbrella. Dominique also received financial counseling, eventually finding more stable employment, with hope for a brighter future. Throughout the ups and downs, Dominique relied on Lunch Break; it was her lifesaver, providing meals, clothing and groceries. ”Everything they offered was wonderful, especially the apple pie. It brought a smile to my face,” Dominique said in reference to the resource center’s food service programs.
Thanks to mentoring from volunteers, she has come full circle, finding her voice as a motivational speaker and pursuing a run for the 11th District Assembly.
Stewart introduced this year’s honorees, which included such distinguished community leaders as Lunch Break Advisory Council Member Carol Stillwell, President and CEO of Stillwell-Hansen, Inc., Norma Todd Service Award; former Lunch Break Board President John Klein and his wife, Board Member Robin Klein, Heart to Hand Award; and Guttenplan’s Frozen Dough, A Child’s Place School, Lincroft, and Abe and Linda Littenberg, Corporate Platinum Partner Award.
Their legacy of giving is unparalleled.
John and Robin Klein, Heart to Hand Award
John and Robin Klein, of Middletown, a mission-driven couple whose compassion knows no bounds, began volunteering and supporting Lunch Break as newcomers to the Red Bank area. “Being involved with Lunch Break and meeting the amazing people of this community was a driving force in making this our forever home.”
John, a real estate developer, joined the Board of Trustees in 2014 and served as Board President from 2017 to 2020. John now serves on the Advisory Council. Robin, founder and President of Fashion Retail Group, a boutique real estate firm, joined the Board in 2020; she and John also are co-chairs of the Capital Campaign.
Their voluntarism and philanthropy doesn’t end there.
John is a founding Board Member of Parents With A Plan, a foundation working to create solutions for the growing housing and services shortage for neurodiverse adults. Robin, also a founding Board Member of Parents With A Plan, serves on the Executive Board of Trustees for the Count Basie Center for the Arts, as well as the Riverview Medical Center Foundation Board.
Their humanitarian work extends far beyond our area, as supporters of the Ubumwe Community Center and School in Rwanda. They share a passion for protecting and rescuing animals, especially those on the brink of extinction, as well as for the welfare of imperiled domestic animals.
Carol Stillwell, President and CEO of Stillwell-Hansen, Inc., Norma Todd Service Award
Carol Stillwell’s life and career has been a story of hard-driving, visionary business leadership and tireless devotion to critical social and health-care causes. Beginning as a secretary in the air-conditioning company founded by her late husband, Gordon, in the 1960s in the family’s converted garage, Carol became president and CEO of Stillwell-Hansen in the ’90s. She helped transform a once-humble small business into a multi-faceted enterprise that provides New Jersey manufacturing clients with data services, tech, hardware and safety training.
In tandem with her dynamic business career, Carol has become a most familiar and acclaimed charitable donor and volunteer, affiliated with a wide array of causes. Carol is a member of Lunch Break’s Advisory Council among others, and her efforts recently have benefitted 180 Turning Lives Around, the American Cancer Society, CASA of Monmouth County, Family Promise, Fulfill, Monmouth County SPCA, Hometown Heroes and key charitable foundations of major local hospitals and colleges, and of course, Lunch Break. Deeply touched by the many awards she has received for her charity work, Carol’s greatest satisfaction is in the difference the work makes in the lives of the many families these organizations serve.
Guttenplan’s Frozen Dough, A Child’s Place School, Lincroft, and Abe and Linda Littenberg, Corporate Platinum Partner Award
Linda and Abe Littenberg, heads of a robust local family and long-time early-childhood educational advocates, are stalwart Lunch Break volunteers, delivering meals to people in need every week.
After graduating engineering school as a young man, Abe joined the family business, Guttenplan’s, and with his cousin transformed the Long Branch bakery into a booming frozen dough supplier that serves restaurants, supermarkets and small bakeries nationwide.
Linda, a high-school teacher who was born into a family of educators, became intrigued by the promise of early childhood schooling when her son Matt was enrolled in A Child’s Place School in Lincroft. When school founder Alba DiBello retired, the Littenbergs bought the school, which is devoted to nourishing young imaginations on the concept that “Children Are Born Curious”. Ardent Lunch Break volunteers and donors for more than two decades, the Littenbergs also help lead the organization, with Abe serving on the Advisory Council and Capital Campaign Construction Committee, and Linda as a member of the Development Committee.
Gala proceeds will be used to sustain the food, clothing, outreach, mentoring and Life Skills programs and services critical to so many individuals and families in our community who have been impacted by the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We can’t thank our wonderful honorees, supporters, organizations and businesses, the Board, our volunteers and staff, and of course, Jon and Tracey Stewart, for helping Lunch Break continue to be an invaluable resource to helping our community members with basic needs and life skills as a path to self-sufficiency. The community support is the reason Lunch Break continues to operate during these uncertain times,” said Executive Director Gwendolyn O. Love.
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