BIGGER HOME TO FEED AND CLOTHE THE NEEDY

Lunch Break executive director Gwen Love, with back to camera, gets a hug after the zoning board vote. Below, plans show the expansion to the left of the existing building, which will get a rooftop vegetable garden. (Photo above by Rebecca Desfosse. Click to enlarge)

By REBECCA DESFOSSE

Red Bank soup kitchen Lunch Break won approval Thursday night for an expansion that will give it some long-overdue breathing room at its packed facility on Drs. James Parker Boulevard, officials said.

With unanimous approval by the borough zoning board, the nonprofit plans to knock down two houses adjacent to existing home and build a two-story, 2,100-square-foot expansion to house administrative offices, a clothing room, a food pantry, and rooms to provide other programs for those in need.

Currently, Lunch Break is operating in extremely cramped quarters, and because of that, “Not only are the volunteers and staff challenged every day, we are not providing the quality of service that we want to for our clients,” said executive director Gwendolyn Love.

On Saturdays, for example, clothing stored in the basement must be carried upstairs and laid out on tables before 8 a.m. to meet a line of people waiting for the doors to open. Love said the new building will include a dedicated area for clothing and pantry items for people to visit as needed throughout the week.

In addition, Love told the board that the demand for hot meals has increased drastically increased in recent years. In the meantime, Lunch Break has also developed other forms of aid, including cooking classes and an internet café for those seeking employment – both of which have amplified the need for additional space.

In June 2011, Lunch Break acquired two properties adjacent to its building for $1 from Justin and Victoria Gmelich of Rumson. Initially, Lunch Break’s board looked into rehabbing the homes, but determined it would be more economical to knock them down and expand their current structure instead.

The approval covered a number of variances, including a minimum front setback and expanding the parking area. And it came just after a touching personal story from Wallace Woods, a former Lunch Break client, who told the board, “Lunch Break doesn’t just feed you. If you use it correctly, you can find resources to use it as a stepping stone to get your life back together.”

“I’m feeling ecstatic, overwhelmed, and blessed,” Love told redbankgreen afterward. “It just shows the continued support of the community. To get a unanimous vote is just wonderful.”

Construction consultant Benjamin Mann, Jr. told the board that Lunch Break had recently received a loan commitment from Two Rivers Bank for approximately $800,000 – about 80 percent of the total needed to complete the project. He estimated the project would take about seven and half months to complete.