Newspapers’ Staff Serves ‘Greater Good’ at Lunch Break

April 22, 2011

Volunteers Receive Warm

Welcome at New Jersey

Soup Kitchen, Food Pantry

A group of Greater Media Newspapers employees helped out recently at Lunch Break, a soup kitchen and food pantry in Red Bank, NJ, struggling with increasing need.

“From two years ago, we have seen a 500 percent increase of people utilizing the services of the pantry,” Executive Director Gwen Love said.

A few years ago, Love said, the Lunch Break pantry provided groceries to 31 families per month.

“Maybe 50 families a month was a lot, and now we’re doing 300 every month,” she said.

Lunch Break, which is located on Drs. James Parker Blvd. on the west side of Red Bank, also serves 4,000 meals a month in the soup kitchen, Love said.

On April 6, Greater Media Newspapers employees helped assemble some of the 300 Easter dinner “baskets” Lunch Break would distribute.

Love said that this is the second year Lunch Break has distributed Easter food baskets, which include staples for the traditional holiday meal, from vegetables and gravy to sweets.

The sign-up for baskets had to be limited to 300 families, she said.

“We had to cap it because whatever we could not get [through donations] to fill the baskets, we have to buy, and it ends up being a lot of money.”

According to pantry Supervisor Peggy Rizzo, of Middletown, “The family gets a choice of ham or chicken and the rest of the fixin’s that make it a special day for them.”

While Lunch Break primarily serves clients from Red Bank and the surrounding areas, Love said the nonprofit has recently begun serving residents of Middletown, Ocean, Matawan, Colts Neck and other towns, a definite change for the organization.

“We’re also getting not only people that do not have jobs, are on unemployment, on Social Security, but we’re getting people that are the working poor,” she said.

“We’re getting people that have jobs, but they are just being squeezed between the gas prices, taxes, just everything.”

To accommodate these new clients, Love said that Lunch Break now opens the pantry on Saturdays.

“Those folks who are working, they couldn’t get to us,” she said.

“The clientele has changed, it has increased. It’s just whoever needs the help, and there are a lot of people who need the help.”

In order to keep pace with this demand, Love said, Lunch Break has had to spend more money.

“Our budget has definitely increased; we’ve never had to spend this much money before,” she said.

“We rely on the community; that’s the truth, that’s the bottom line. If the community doesn’t help us, we’re not here.”

Rizzo said the pantry sometimes struggles to meet the demand.

“You’ll notice how empty some of these shelves are. As soon as the things come in, they go back out,” she said.

Love encouraged the community to donate all year, especially during the summer, the pantry’s slowest donation period.

“It’s not just November and December,” she said, the time of year when hunger becomes a popular cause. “We need the help all year long.”

Overall, though, Love said that the community’s response has been good, and part of her job is to let the public know how it can help.

“Lunch Break has also become more aggressive in letting the community know of the need and running its own food drives,” she said, which Lunch Break had not previously done.

“We’ve got to be more aggressive,” she said. “The need is constant, it’s growing, and there are people that used to donate that can’t even donate anymore.”

Love said that if she can get the staff, she would like to extend pantry hours into the evening.

“You need the finances and the support in place in order to do that,” she said. “You can do more, but it takes more to do more, and we’re trying to hold our own right now.”

Love said that Lunch Break’s fundraising activities serve a dual purpose: raising money while raising awareness that hunger is an issue in Monmouth County.

The nonprofit has also created a grant-writing committee to pursue additional sources of revenue, she said.

The entire editorial and advertising staffs of the Hub, Atlanticville and Independent newspapers, three of the 10 GMN weeklies, were more than happy to help out as part of Greater Media’s Day of Greater Good campaign to offer assistance to charitable organizations that could use a few extra hands. The group brought along groceries donated by the newspaper division, as well as toothpaste samples from K.K. Dental of North Brunswick. The donations were warmly welcomed.

“Lunch Break is a vital organization that meets a great need in the community. We have had a long and close relationship with Lunch Break, so when the Greater Good campaign was announced, we all gladly took the opportunity to volunteer here,” said Gloria Stravelli, managing editor of the three publications.

“I especially enjoy helping to serve lunch and the interaction it provides with clients. Gwen told me that having new faces behind the lunch counter creates a buzz among the clients who get to meet new people.”

“It’s a great organization,” said staff writer Daniel Howley. “I like seeing how much everyone appreciates our help. When you think of a soup kitchen, it’s hard to put a face on it. But being able to meet and interact with the clients brings it home — these people could be your friends or family members.”

“It was a wonderful experience. I was amazed by the food pantry,” said Jennifer Peyton, advertising manager. “We filled so many Easter baskets, yet it was eye-opening to see so many empty shelves and to realize how great the need is.”

“We appreciate everything everyone does,” Love said. “If it wasn’t for the community, Lunch Break would not be here.”

Other Greater Media Newspapers’ volunteers were Kenny Walter, Andrew Davison, Sarah Devin, Laurel Lee, Denise Binn, and Eileen MacKrell.