Community leaders honored at Lunch Break 2021 Fall Gala

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RED BANK – More than 300 Lunch Break supporters were reunited for an evening of entertainment under the stars to honor the selfless work of philanthropic community leaders on behalf of financially and food insecure community members during the 2021 Fall Gala “We Rise Together, Restoring and Rebuilding Lives” at the Basie Center for the Arts and Education on Oct. 15.

The event was hosted by Jon Stewart of the Apple TV+ series, “The Problem With Jon Stewart.”

The gala committee, co-chaired by Mimi Keenan and Tina Pflaster, coordinated the fundraiser’s fall harvest theme – an iconic nod to Lunch Break’s nutritious food service programs, according to a press release.

Guests were treated to musical performances by the Count Basie Brass C Sharps and the nonprofit Jazz Arts Project, along with culinary creations catered by Willow & Sage.

A live auction featured get-away jaunts to Cabo San Lucas and Costa Rica; dinner in a trendy Manhattan restaurant and tickets to a premier performance at the Metropolitan Opera; and a gourmet pizza-making experience at the home of a Lunch Break supporter, according to the press release.

Showtime goodies were donated by Chocolate Carousel, Long Branch, and the Red Bank Chocolate Shop.

“Lunch Break provides an invaluable service to our community. It’s essential in normal times and its value has only grown in these difficult times,” Stewart said of the organization’s efforts to feed community members struggling financially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am always impressed by their compassion and thorough execution of not just food insecurity issues, but job training and overall life management support. I am hard pressed to think of a more worthy organization, especially given how they have risen to this unusual and challenging moment. We must now rise to meet them,” he said.

According to the press release, the evening was a window into the heart and soul of Lunch Break, the food and social services resource center at 121 Drs James Parker Blvd., Red Bank, with compelling testimonials from clients such as Chelsea Zamot and Dominique Faison, each of whom was facing homelessness, financial burdens and other challenging circumstances.

They both were offered hope for a better tomorrow after receiving guidance and support from dedicated staff and volunteers at Lunch Break.

Chelsea and Dominique revealed their life-changing stories in candid interviews.

Young mother Chelsea was struggling under the weight of debt and unable to graduate college until the Life Skills team helped to reduce her debt so she could return to her studies. She is now a graduate of Rutgers University.

Dominique, a lifelong Monmouth County resident and mother of nine and grandmother of five children, spent a portion of her life homeless. She was employed part-time during those years and sought housing and emergency financial assistance from Family Promise of Monmouth County, an organization under the Lunch Break umbrella.

Dominique also received financial counseling, eventually finding more stable employment, with hope for a brighter future. Throughout the ups and downs, Dominique relied on Lunch Break; it was her lifesaver, providing  meals, clothing and groceries.

”Everything they offered was wonderful, especially the apple pie. It brought a smile to my face,” Dominique said in reference to the resource center’s food service programs.

She eventually found her voice as a motivational speaker and pursued a run for an 11th District state Assembly seat.

Stewart introduced this year’s honorees: Lunch Break Advisory Council Member Carol Stillwell, President and CEO of Stillwell-Hansen Inc., Norma Todd Service Award; former Lunch Break Board President John Klein and his wife, board member Robin Klein, Heart to Hand Award; and Guttenplan’s Frozen Dough, A Child’s Place School, Lincroft, and Abe and Linda Littenberg, Corporate Platinum Partner Award.

Gala proceeds will be used to sustain the food, clothing, outreach, mentoring and Life Skills programs and services critical to so many individuals and families in the community who have been impacted by the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the press release.

“We can’t thank our wonderful honorees, supporters, organizations and businesses, the board, our volunteers and staff, and of course, Jon and Tracey Stewart, for helping Lunch Break continue to be an invaluable resource to helping our community members with basic needs and life skills as a path to self-sufficiency. The community support is the reason Lunch Break continues to operate during these uncertain times,” Executive Director Gwendolyn O. Love said.