Building On The Legacy
The dream of Lunch Break founder Norman Todd in the early 1980s lives on today in the hearts, souls and minds of this organization’s leaders, staff, supporters and volunteers. Now, 40 years later, Mrs. Todd’s call to action for helping the hungry in our community has resulted in more than just a legacy of nourishment for those in need.
Lunch Break’s anniversary is a culmination of the efforts begun in 1983 by Mrs. Todd, who was struck by the problem of hunger in her own backyard. In January of that year, Mrs. Todd and 34 others gathered at the Friends Meeting House in Shrewsbury to discuss the issue of hunger in Monmouth County. They committed themselves to helping community members who found it difficult to provide the basics for their family by raising funds and recruiting volunteers. That commitment flourished into a “community center” at 121 Drs. James Parker Boulevard in Red Bank – a place filled with hope, which clients and volunteers call home.
The architects of this blossoming self-sufficiency program strived to establish a refuge for those reflectively distressed by history’s watershed moments that uprooted entire communities: severe economic recessions, natural disasters the likes of hurricanes, viral pandemics. Lunch Break’s service has seen its fair share of all three extreme examples in the past 13 years alone, from 2010 to 2023.
The mission continues under the leadership of the Board of Trustees and Executive Director Gwendolyn Love, who joined Lunch Break in 2008.
“What Mrs. Todd and the early volunteers created out of love for their neighbors is actually a great love story and I’m so excited there is interest for others to know about those early days. There was a movement, a call to action, to meet a need in the community to feed the hungry,” says Mrs. Love. “And from that labor of love developed an awareness of other challenges that existed to be met.”
She continues: “Lunch Break stepped up to provide help.”
Lunch Break took further shape in March 1983, when Reverend Terence Rosheuvel provided the basement of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Red Bank to serve hot lunches. For a short time in 1985, Lunch Break moved its operations to the Masonic Temple on West Bergen Place. The following year, through combined efforts of many contributors and generous donors, Lunch Break opened the doors to its permanent home in Red Bank in 1986.
Integral to establishing Lunch Break’s spiritual framework and selfless philosophies, Rosheuvel was honored with the Norma Todd Service Award at the organization’s 2018 Fall Gala.
Mrs. Todd passed away in April 2008, passing her legacy of love and determination on to the many who continue in her path.
A lifelong humanitarian, Mrs. Todd’s compassion for others was not reserved solely for her Monmouth County patrons, as her empathy spanned the globe. Her husband, James Todd, had been among the first African-American officers in the United States Foreign Service in the 1940s; the position came with a constant call to travel as the Todds had to relocate to fill government posts across the world. Even in regions of harsh conflict, Mrs. Todd always sought solutions for the societal problems she encountered.
Today, along with the Board of Trustees, Mrs. Love’s staff, Lunch Break is supported by more than 2,000 annual volunteers. In 2022, the organization served more than 95,000 hot meals, along with more than 24,000 total food pickups from Client Choice pantry. More than 5,000 people were outfitted with clothing from Clara’s Closet, with 1,178 bags of clothing through the outreach program and more than 200 through the Suit-Up program. The resource center has never missed a meal in 40 years despite the 2020 onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and such natural disasters as Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
From a simple soup kitchen, Lunch Break services now include housing solutions and family counseling; children’s cooking classes; a Saturday breakfast; a mobile community garden market; senior luncheon; Womyn’s Worth (women’s mentoring program); the Alliance For Success program, Boys and Girls Clubs of Monmouth County Monthly Birthday Bash; Internet Café; Back to School backpack and school supply drive; Holiday Toy Program; disaster relief support; ESL/literacy classes; and a Life Skills Center focusing on resume and interview coaching and employment assessment. In 2022, Lunch Break incorporated Family Promise of Monmouth County, an organization that works with community agencies, faith-based services, churches and synagogues to provide supportive services, financial assistance, shelter, and food to families in need, into its network of programs.
Relying on the generosity of donors and considerable community support, Lunch Break began a Capital Campaign in 2021 to expand its headquarters to accommodate future program growth. The $12 million goal was met through donor contributions and building expansion construction began in 2022.
The new building will better accommodate Lunch Break services and new initiatives, and provide more warehouse and operations space and an eventual new home for the Life Skills Center. The project is scheduled to be completed by late fall 2023.
Thanks to the passion and dedication of Lunch Break volunteers, board members and the generosity of our many donors, Lunch Break continues to build on Norma Todd’s foundation. Its vision is to lead the region as the comprehensive food, nutrition, and life skills resource for community members in need.
Mrs. Love knows that vision is clearly in sight: “By being one-on-one with people – that’s when change occurs and that’s Lunch Break’s greatest strength.”