RED BANK, NJ — Many in our community are facing hardship as a result of the COVID-19 economic fallout. Whether because of unemployment, under employment, homelessness or trying to survive on fixed incomes, the number of community members struggling with food and financial insecurities continues to escalate. As Lunch Break endeavors to support the mounting requests from those seeking basic necessities and job skills training, a proposal to expand its current, overcrowded facility has recently won unanimous Zoning Board approval, a major step in a $12 million Capital Campaign.
Lunch Break last year witnessed a sharp rise in demand for groceries, with an 111 percent increase in food pickups from 2019, and a 22 percent 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 an unrelenting need.
“We are thrilled about the approval, which couldn’t come at a more appropriate time,” says Executive Director Gwendolyn Love. “I believe the community wholeheartedly supports the work of our mission and because of this, we can look forward to a new home with space to offer more services for the well-being of our neighbors.”
The trends Lunch Break has seen mirror a 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 coming months.
But while our kitchen served more than 88,000 grab-and-go meals during 2020, and our Client Choice Pantry provided 21,000 grocery pickups, as well as scores of meal deliveries made to the homebound and displaced families, Lunch Break does so much more.
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As many as 100 people a month attend our Life Skills Center’s coaching sessions, and, in 2020, more than 40 participants 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. Life Skills also provides job referrals, as well as an Alliance For Success program for at-risk junior and senior high school students in need of college prep guidance or vocational training.
In addition, the Womyn’s Worth mentorship program offers workshops and lectures focused on women’s health, nutrition, wellness and self-empowerment.
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.
For clients such as Dominique Faison, who relied on the resource center’s Client Choice pantry, meal service and Clara’s Closet clothing program for her family, Lunch Break was a lifeline. Faison was homeless, and sought temporary shelter with help from Family Promise of Monmouth County, part of the Lunch Break umbrella of services. When all seemed overwhelming, Faison, now in permanent housing and seeking a run for New Jersey’s 11th District Assembly, remembers the kindness she received from pantry volunteers and the occasional pies, which brought her some comfort. “They even had wonderful apple pie,” she recalls. “I just couldn’t help but smile.”
The planned expansion of Lunch Break’s cramped quarters at 121 Drs. James Parker Blvd. in Red Bank will enable volunteers and staff to serve more people, more efficiently, and to more safely accept truck deliveries and individual donations.
While relying on the generosity of donors and considerable community support, Lunch Break has begun a Capital Campaign, with a goal of raising $12 million in donor contributions.
The $12 million cost estimate is based on a comprehensive facility requirement study.
To better accommodate Lunch Break services and new initiatives, including a pending 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 8,236 square feet to the building’s original 5,080-foot design, providing for a loading dock and more space for truck parking and safer and easier off-loading of deliveries. The expansion would meet a dire need for space in all of Lunch Break’s daily operations, bringing the now off-site Life Skills Center into the main building.
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 would help the resource center better serve clients in Monmouth County and beyond, and to welcome new visitors suffering hardship and urgent need.
About Lunch Break
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.
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