Lunch Break Legacy


Norma ToddThe dream of Lunch Break founder Norma Todd in the early 1980s lives on today in the hearts, souls and minds of this organization’s leaders, staff, supporters and volunteers. Now, 38 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 38th 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 10 years alone, from 2010 to 2020.

Red Bank Rotary Volunteer DayThe 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, presented to him by Mrs. Todd’s daughter Cynthia and granddaughter Rikki, at the organization’s 2018 Fall Gala.

During Lunch Break’s formative years, Rosheuvel wrote in his 1988 book “Loaves and Fishes: the Lunch Break Story”:

“Lunch Break — and indeed anything that genuinely brings people together – has a value far greater than its size or its almost accidental history might suggest. It represents the hope that we can rehumanize our society and begin to reestablish the social values that have all but disappeared.”

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. Her vocation drove her to contribute to managing cholera outbreaks in Egypt, establishing Girl Scout troops in Indonesia and Barbados, and building a school for girls in Zambia.

VOLUNTEER RECOGNITIONToday, along with Mrs. Love’s staff, Lunch Break is supported by more than 2,000 annual volunteers. In 2020, the organization served more than 88,000 hot meals, along with 21,000 pickups from Client Choice pantry. More than 3,000 people were outfitted with clothing from Clara’s Closet, with 7,175 bags of clothing through the outreach program and more than 90 through the Suit-Up program.

From a simple soup kitchen, Lunch Break services now include children’s cooking classes; a Saturday breakfast; a mobile community gardeners’ market; Senior Christmas Luncheon; Womyn’s Worth (women’s mentoring program); Food for Thought male mentorship 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.

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.”