Love to be presented with MLK Human Dignity Award

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2020 was filled with uncertainty and cancelled events near and far, but the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County is busy preparing for its annual community celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The commemoration will be a live virtual event hosted on Zoom on Jan. 15.

For the second year in the 32-year history of the event, the Y will present its Martin Luther King Jr. Human Dignity Award to honor an individual who reflects King’s principles and ideals in philosophy and action.

This year’s recipient is Gwendolyn Love, the executive director of Lunch Break in Red Bank, according to a press release.

“Gwen is one of the most caring and compassionate individuals and leaders in our community and in the entire region. She has dedicated her career to help others find dignity and a sense of security in an insecure world. We are honored and humbled by her work and commitment,” said event chairman and Y board member Michael Wright.

Love has been at the helm of Lunch Break since 2008. She came to the organization after a career in community service and volunteer work.

Under Love’s direction, Lunch Break serves 6,000 hot meals every month and more than 850 families receive groceries through the Client Choice pantry. Several thousand people receive clothes and needed household items. Through Lunch Break and its partner organizations, hundreds of children are given toys through the Holiday Toy Program, according to the press release.

Since Love took leadership, services at Lunch Break have been expanded to include a hot breakfast on Saturdays prepared by various churches.

There are regular cooking classes for boys and girls and the hours of operation at the expanded facility have been extended to help serve more people in need.

Meals to home-bound clients are delivered six days a week by volunteers, and Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas breakfast and Friday community dinners are provided for the community’s fellowship and enjoyment.

During the coronavirus pandemic, grab-and-go meal services and grocery distributions have grown exponentially. Lunch Break did not miss a meal since the pandemic took hold in March 2020, according to the press release.

Love has made sure Lunch Break continued its outreach initiatives, such as the Food for Thought Male Mentorship Program, Women’s Word Mentoring Program, and a Life Skills employment coaching program to provide clients with a pathway to self-sufficiency.

Under Love, Lunch Break has evolved into one of the most vital social service agencies in Monmouth County and beyond, according to the press release.

Love has acknowledged the strong foundation of partnerships and support fostered by former director Norma Todd. She also credits the efforts of the thousands of volunteers and dedicated staff who work to ensure the efficient operation of Lunch Break, which serves its clients “in an atmosphere of dignity and concern.”

“I am honored and humbled to be this year’s award recipient. It is Lunch Break’s mission to uphold Dr. King’s message of non-violence and equality. We treat everyone who walks through our doors with dignity, respect and compassion,” Love said.

Last year’s MLK Human Dignity Award recipient Wayne Boatwright, vice president of Diversity and Inclusion at Hackensack Meridian Health, will present the 2021 award to Love.

The MLK event will also highlight the two esteemed winners of the Dr. King student essay contest. Each high school student will share and read their winning essay during the program.

Both students will receive a $1,500 scholarship sponsored by Hackensack Meridian Health, New Jersey Natural Gas and PorterPlus Realty, as well as a full year membership to a YMCA of Greater Monmouth County branch of their choice.

The keynote speaker for the event will be Kerwin Webb, Youth and Young Adult pastor at the Second Baptist Church, Asbury Park, and president of the Greater Red Bank Area NAACP.

Webb believes firmly in education, mentoring, training, and community development, and in 2013 he founded the RMW Foundation Inc., a nonprofit organization with a mission to “feed, educate and empower,” according to the press release.

YMCA President and CEO Laurie Goganzer said, “The YMCA of Greater Monmouth County is ready to bring the community together to reflect upon Dr. King in the context of the current climate of social justice and other important issues facing our community, our country and the world.”

In addition to Wright, Love and Boatwright, committee members are Sue Harbison, HABcore; Thomas Hayes, New Jersey Natural Gas; Darryl Hughes, Hackensack Meridian Health; Rabbi Marc Kline, Monmouth Reform Temple; Pastor Jessica Naulty, United Methodist Church of Red Bank; Samara O’Neill, PorterPlus Realty; Gilda Rogers, T. Thomas Fortune House; and the Rev. Ronald L. Sparks, Bethel AME Freehold.

The event will take place from 8-9 a.m. Jan. 15 and is free and open to all. To register or to learn more, visit www.ymcanj.org/MLK