Serving Up Hope: Local New Jersey Non-Profit Helps Community During Covid-19
Jaime Chaifetz December 10, 2020
During the Holiday season it is more important than ever to give back to the community and those less fortunate. We have invited Gwendolyn Love, Executive Director of Lunch Break to give us an update on how they are weathering Covid-19, how they are helping others and how you can help Lunch Break continue to serve the community. Lunch Break is part of the grassroots mission started by Norma Todd in 1983 in Red Bank, New Jersey. Throughout the pandemic, they have never missed a meal for those that depend on them. Please enjoy our interview from the Virtual Water Cooler Series on October 19th 2020.
Jaime: Hello everyone and welcome to today’s Virtual Water Cooler. My name is Jaime Chaifetz. We have a special show for you today. We have something a little bit different than Insurance. We are going to be interviewing Gwendolyn Love of Lunch Break. She’s the Executive Director there and we’re going to talk about what they do for the community, such as freely providing food, clothing, life skills, and fellowship to those in need in Monmouth County and beyond. So Gwen, you’ve been working there for the past… how many years?
Gwen: 12 years.
Jaime: 12 years, that’s great. And, a little back story, it was founded from the grassroots mission started by Norma Todd in 1983. How is Lunch Break doing these days? Are you still providing meals?
Gwen: Absolutely, we never stopped providing meals and groceries. Before Covid, people would come into the dining room and sit in fellowship, have their coffee, and eat and have that sense of community that’s so important to not just your physical but your emotional needs. But you know we cannot do that now. We are still providing food out the door, hot lunches six days a week and dinners on Friday nights. People cannot come in but they’re pulling the cars around where you know the volunteers are coming out. And for those who walk to Lunch Break, we actually went out and purchased a bunch of the carts, the rolling carts so that they could not have to have the burden of not getting as much food that they needed. During the height of Covid we suspended a lot of the other services and then slowly they started coming back but differently. For example, our life skills program had in-house Excel classes and resume writing classes which transitioned very quickly to virtual classes. Our cooking classes for children also transitioned to virtual classes.
Jaime: That’s incredible I was looking on your page and I also saw there is a Covid-19 emergency fund, can you tell us about that?
Gwen: When Covid hit, especially when everyone had to be home and people were losing their jobs and there were challenges for people to get on the website for unemployment, there were some really wonderful foundations that stepped up. One of them was The Stone Foundation, who submitted a fifty-thousand-dollar seed donation for us to start this emergency fund and then others came on board. We have given out over $600,000 worth of funds just paying people’s bills, car payments, car insurance and some of the rents. There have been over 800 families that we’ve helped through the Covid funds, so it’s been a lot, and there’s a lot more that’s needed as well.
Jaime: It’s definitely a trying time for so many, with job loss and so many horrible things happening. I guess for a bit of a silver lining do you see any ways the pandemic has strengthened the sense of community at Lunch Break?
Gwen: The community has helped to support Lunch Break as well and they always have. They you know even in the midst of the pandemic when the restaurants were struggling, they were reaching out to Lunch Break and helping. So, the community has been amazing in terms of their monetary donations, of their food collections and other donations. I think people saw that Lunch Break was still open, and never closed our doors and we never missed a meal. People opened their hearts and their checkbooks and they gave, and they continue to give. So, I think that in terms of the spirit of stepping up and being a community that’s always there. When you see someone in your family or a neighbor struggling you want to show up in in their time of need.
Jaime: People are in need and there are a lot of things that they can help with. What is something people can do to help Lunch Break? Are you accepting volunteers now? Donations?
Gwen: Regarding volunteering, I would suggest just call our volunteer coordinator. She knows when there’s times when people have to be away from Lunch Break and need a break, and she’ll call in new volunteers, and then you have to go through a screening process to make sure that you know you’re healthy and things like that. Other ways, also, you know, the holidays are coming up, you know, we’re still going to be providing the bags of Thanksgiving dinners as well as the Christmas dinners and we have a list on our website. You can go on our website, lunchbreak.org, and there will be a list of all the food products that we’re looking for to fill the bags for the Thanksgiving meals as well as the Christmas meals. Also, we are transitioning away from our normal holiday Christmas toy program, where we normally handle hundreds and hundreds of toys to provide to hundreds and hundreds of children. This year to keep everyone safe we’re just having a gift card drive and what we’re going to be doing is providing families with gift cards so they can actually do the shopping whether it’s online or in person and provide the gift themselves. We were looking at Target and Walmart, places like that that people might be able to get some bargains hopefully. And finally, we’re looking for funds for the Covid emergency fund to keep that running.
Jaime: That’s great, those are a lot of great ways that people can help out. Is there anything else you want to touch on about Lunch Break?
Gwen: We just ask that everyone try to do what they can do to keep everyone safe so we can get out of this situation. One of the biggest and most painful parts of how we’ve had to transition is the fact that people cannot come into Lunch Break and so many of the folks that we serve, especially in the soup kitchen, have experiences with mental illness, depression, loneliness, and Lunch Break is a place where we provide friendship for those that come in. There are folks that really look to a place like Lunch Break to come into to have that fellowship, to be able to have that warmth and get out of the cold, and so we need to be open.
On behalf of InsureYourCompany.com we thank Gwendolyn Love for taking the time out to chat with us. Lunch Break is accepting donations to their COVID-19 emergency fund. Funds will go towards helping people who have lost jobs, are no longer receiving unemployment, are waiting for unemployment, or who are struggling to pay their bills, like utilities, groceries, insurance, car payments, etc. Also, you can call a volunteer coordinator to see if you are able to volunteer your time. All safety precautions are taken and there is a screening process to confirm. This holiday season particularly, volunteers will be putting together Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. One last way to help is to donate to the Lunch Break gift card drive. There is usually a Christmas toy program but this year, Lunch Break is having a gift card drive where people can register for gift cards for their children and shop for the gifts themselves. Suggested stores are Target and Walmart.
Even though Lunch Break is not able to open their doors to the public as they once did, their impact in the community is still present. The service they provide the Monmouth County area is invaluable.
To watch the full interview, click here.
To visit the Lunch Break website, click here.