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Lunch Break in Red Bank warms hearts, stomachs on Christmas

Like the elves who wrap presents in Santa’s workshop, staff members and volunteers at Lunch Break in Red Bank woke up bright and early on Christmas to prepare a special holiday brunch for clients.

On Dec. 25, volunteers and staff members at Lunch Break, a center that provides free food, clothing and life skills to individuals and families in need, prepared and served a warm Christmas breakfast to those who came by 121 Drs James Parker Blvd.

“It’s just another day we are open,” said Sharda Jetwani Love, the program director at Lunch Break.

The staff expected to serve about 200 patrons during the annual event, she said.

“We have been doing this event for years. Aside from (Lunch Break) providing a sense of relief, (people) need to eat in order to survive … We do what we do here. We feed people,” Love said, adding that brunch was a little extra special.

Love said additional volunteers prepared and delivered a hot meal to homebound clients who could not attend the brunch on Christmas morning.

Seated at a festively decorated table with his family, Thomas Hargrove, who is a volunteer and client at Lunch Break, said the annual brunch on Christmas Day is a special place where old and new friends can gather.

“It’s a nice day in the neighborhood,” Hargrove said. “… Some of us don’t have nowhere to go for Christmas. Some (people) don’t have any family. When you come to (Lunch Break), it’s like a gathering.

“(Lunch Break) is a place where everyone can sit down and (eat) and it doesn’t cost you anything. You meet your friends and you meet your family and you enjoy Christmas,” Hargrove said.

Patron Mark Williams said he enjoys interacting with new people from different cultures and backgrounds when he visits Lunch Break.

Allan Gray, who has been volunteer since 2010, said most clients at Lunch Break are not homeless. He said the majority of patrons are employed and have a home, but cannot afford to feed themselves or their families.

“A lot of these people are living paycheck to paycheck,” Gray said. “There are very few homeless people here. It’s people with food deficiencies … People just don’t have enough money to buy food.”

Gray said some clients “compromise what they eat” in order to pay for other expenses such as rent or prescription medications.

In addition to the soup kitchen, Gray said, Lunch Break has a food pantry from which clients may select items such as fresh produce or dairy products to bring home.

Gray said the food pantry is similar to a grocery store, but he said clients are not “just handed a couple of cans.” He said local farms often donate fresh food to the pantry.

Peg Rizzo, administrative assistant to the executive director at Lunch Break, described the atmosphere at Lunch Break as a safe haven.

“Lunch Break is definitely a family,” Rizzo said. “All of the people who come in from day to day share all of the warmth, dignity and respect we offer.”

After brunch, children who attended the event were invited to come outside and choose a Christmas present. The first toy giveaway Lunch Break offered on Dec. 14 provided more than 300 families with toys.

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