LunchBreakThe numbers speak for themselves: more than 61,000 hot meals served up in 2013 alone, to neighbors in need from all over Monmouth County (and beyond its borders). Over 600 area families assisted each month with groceries from the food pantry — and, perhaps most timely and telling,  the statistic that shows 85 percent of all clients served currently holding a full time job.

Even more priceless beyond numbers is the fact that, in the words of Lunch Break director Gwendolyn O. Love, “all of our services are free of charge, provided in an atmosphere of kindness, dignity and respect.” Established over 30 years ago by the late Norma Todd and a committed group of area churches and bsuinesses, the Red Bank-based nonprofit has expanded the old fashioned archetype of a “soup kitchen” operation to include senior gift programs, clothing drives, and employment assistance — and the busy building on Drs. James Parker Boulevard can be the scene for anything from cooking classes and social services counseling, to movie nights and an in-house Internet Cafe.

As a trusted, well-organized entity that depends on private donations for its own survival, Lunch Break is among several area charities taking part in the OceanFirst Charity Challenge campaign, a crowdsourcing endeavor in which the central New Jersey bank will award $10,000 to the participating organization that raises the most independent contributions by May 9, 2014. Coordinated via Crowdrise, the campaign kicked off on April 14, and features a series of weekly Bonus Challenges in which participants can win smaller Good Neighbor Grants and other rewards, for meeting weekly fundraising benchmarks.

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housesThe two properties adjoining Lunch Break, at right above, will be used to provide social services and clothing to the needy, if plans are approved. (Click to enlarge)


Space is tight at Lunch Break, the Red Bank soup kitchen.

Because of soaring demand for hot meals and canned goods, the need for pantry space has soared, too. Volunteers handling administrative duties share dining tables with clients who come for the meals. Every Saturday, bundles of clothing stored in the basement of the 25-year-old facility named for co-founder Norma Todd must be carted upstairs, out through a parking lot and back into the ground-floor dining room for distribution to clients in need.  When winter approaches, executive director Gwen Love has to clear out of her cramped office so clients can get flu shots in private.

The space shortage is more than just an inconvenience. It impinges on Lunch Break’s mission, says Love: to deliver services to those in need with a measure of dignity and respect.

So the recent donation of two houses adjoining Lunch Break’s home at 121 on Drs. James Parker Boulevard, just as the organization was about to embark on a search for additional space, was something of a “miracle,” says Love.

“Every now and then, it rains down blessings,” she tells redbankgreen.

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