Through Natural Disasters and Pandemics, Lunch Break Celebrates 38th Anniversary of Serving the Community

VOLUNTEER RECOGNITION March 2, 2021 2:34 pm

Lunch Break is celebrating 38 years of providing food, clothing, social services, fellowship and, now, life skills employment training to hundreds of families and individuals living at or below the poverty line in Monmouth County and beyond. A weeklong social media celebration to mark the anniversary highlighting those who have offered their time and talents to assist us in our mission will take place in March 2021.

VOLUNTEER RECOGNITIONThe organization, its origins dating to 1983 as a humble food pantry organized by Norma Todd and community leaders to alleviate hunger, has since flourished into a service agency and Life Skills Program to help participants achieve self-sufficiency. Last year, Lunch Break saw an unprecedented demand for groceries — 111 percent more food pickups over 2019. Same holds true for grab-and-go meals — Continental breakfast and lunch served six days a week — with a 22 percent rise over 2019. This year, the need for food continues to increase as Lunch Break honors its promise to “never miss a meal,” thanks largely, in part, to the support of generous community members and dedicated volunteers.

“In 38 years, we’ve survived just about everything from natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, economic downturns and now, the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Executive Director Gwendolyn Love. “This not only shows the passion and commitment of our volunteers and donors for their neighbors, but a giving spirit that is truly from the heart. I am humbled by the love and support we receive every day.”

VOLUNTEER RECOGNITIONBeginning in March 2020, the organization quickly adapted to modified food and grocery services, offering grab-and-go meals and contactless grocery pickups with help from front-line staff and volunteers. The Children’s Cooking Class and Womyn’s Worth Program also continued meeting remotely through Zoom conferencing. The Life Skills Center conducted virtual coaching sessions and employment and financial tutorials for up to 100 participants a month in 2020, 45 of whom gained employment.

“I always wanted to try working in a hospital, and the Life Skills Center made it possible … which is huge because it’s so hard to get into such a high demand job field,” says Wanda, a Life Skills Center participant.

Reflecting on last year’s challenges, Life Skills Program Manager Mary Ann LaSardo found remote conferencing to be a way around some of the obstacles to learning.

“Perhaps the best lesson learned was with our ESL classes. Prior to the pandemic our classes were held on Monday evenings. We usually had 25 plus students, but we often heard that transportation and day care were problems for some in attending classes. We now do classes via Zoom, and we’ve added a few more students and removed the obstacles.”

She continues: “It has been so successful, we will continue during post pandemic times to offer at least one ESL class via Zoom.”

Our Young Hunger Hero ZakAmong last year’s accomplishments for Lunch Break:

  • Health and wellness initiatives involving nutritional meal planning and grocery options for preventive health care and accommodations for health-related dietary restrictions
  • Homebound delivery of nutritious meals provided 6 days a week, 52 weeks a year, including holidays.
  • Thanksgiving grab-and-go meals provided in addition to delivering to our homebound clients.
  • Every week, over 100 hot meals are delivered to displaced individuals in the Pan American Motel.
  • Clara’s Closet distributed clothing to more than 3,200 individuals.
  • Outreach Clothing Program distributed 7,175 bags of clothing to individuals throughout Monmouth County.
  • The Suit Up Program provided 95 individuals with business attire.
  • The Backpack Program ensured that 725 children in need had school supplies.
  • Our annual Holiday Program provided gift cards for 850 families.
  • Womyn’s Worth – Female Mentorship Program focused on health, nutrition and wellness through virtual discussions, workshops and speakers.
  • COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund was established with agency partners for the payment of utilities, car payments, cable bills and rent assistance. To date, Lunch Break has distributed more than $800,000 directly to vendors to help our clients keep these critical services.

“As we celebrate the 38th anniversary of Lunch Break, and thank all of those who dedicated so much time and effort over the years, we look forward to 2021 and beyond in which Lunch Break continues to evolve its services to provide a path to self-sufficiency for our clients,” says Board President Phil Antoon.

“We have come through some of the darkest times and now, with hope on the horizon, we look forward to some new initiatives, as well as furthering our commitment to support the well- being of our community,” Mrs. Love says.

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