By Jay Cook |
SHREWSBURY – Lunch Break has been serving hot meals and providing services to Red Bank’s underprivileged for over three decades.
But for their anniversary this year, the nonprofit Red Bank institution will extend its offerings beyond the pantry.
By the end of next summer, Lunch Break will open its first Life Skills Center – a one-stop shop for those in need to attain personalized guidance towards a high school diploma or support for an entry-level job in the workforce.
“We have been helping people with their most immediate needs for 35 years,” said Lunch Break’s executive director, Gwendolyn Love. “We’re excited to be able to take this opportunity and build it into something that’s going to be life-changing for many of our clients.”
Lunch Break received approval from Shrewsbury’s planning board last month to completely gut and renovate a 1,250-square-foot former real estate office at 648 Broad St. into the agency’s only satellite location.
That location will serve as a services hub for all of Lunch Break’s clients, many of whom are looking to break the cycle of hunger and joblessness, Love said.
Sharda Jetwani Love, Lunch Break’s program director, said the Life Skills Center is a “job readiness program helping those who are unemployed, underemployed or just looking for more skillsets to help them attain a level of financial stability.”
When the center opens later this year, Jetwani Love said it will offer soft skills like interviewing tips, résumé guidance and prep for GED programs. Local representatives from the education, business and development sectors will make up a steering committee to help find the best methods of assistance.
Jetwani Love said the Life Skills Center will provide a personalized experience for each of its clients. If someone is looking to attain a high school diploma, Jetwani Love said there is a pathway established with Brookdale Community College in Lincroft to reach that goal. For those on governmental assistance, representatives from the Monmouth County One-Stop will be easily accessible for help in finding employment.
Lunch Break has also created pacts with numerous successful businesses in Monmouth and Ocean counties where graduates of the Life Skills Center can get an entry-level job and rise through the ranks. Some of those companies are Sickles Market, soon opening on Red Bank’s West Side; Meridian Healthcare; Sunrise Senior Living; and at any of the 11 local Home Depot branches in the two counties.
“You may come in entry level but there’s a pathway to work up the ladder in the organization,” Love said. “That’s golden. It’s how you get into self-sustainability.”
Shrewsbury Mayor Don Burden said there are “no negatives at all” for the Life Skills Center opening in the 2.3-square-mile town neighboring Red Bank.
“They’re reaching out to surrounding communities outside of the Red Bank base, which I think is very helpful, and I’m hopeful some of the work they’ll be doing there will result in some of these people finding employment in Shrewsbury,” Burden said.
Lunch Break is busier than ever in its 35 years operating in Red Bank. Just last year, Love said the nonprofit served 80,000 hot meals; delivered 70,000 meals to homebound clients; had 10,000 visits to the client choice pantry; and have anywhere between 750 and 850 people a month visit for the pantry.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our numbers were dwindling on the food services side and growing on the life skills program side? That’s the goal,” Love said.
Lunch Break has been offering job searching services to its clients, but not to the extent expected at their new facility. The internet café at its headquarters at 121 Drs. James Parker Blvd. has been used for job researching and employers post opportunities on a job board there. The organization also offers a suit-provision program where clients can schedule to get a fitted suit for an interview.
Jetwani Love said she anticipates the Life Skills Center to be busy when doors open.
“You trust us enough to come here and get your food, back to school supplies and your toys,” she said. “Why not step in and see how we can help you with budgeting or getting clothes for an interview?”
Love said it’s been a total community effort to open the center. A volunteer with Lunch Break who works for JP Morgan Chase helped broker the lease for the Life Skills Center. Love said Lunch Break will lease the building for 11 years at the price of $1 a month. Maser Engineering, a Middletown firm, provided engineering services pro bono for the planning board applications. Metrovation partner Chris Cole, whose group owns The Grove in Shrewsbury, will provide landscaping services and decorations for the Life Skills Center.
Lunch Break will apply for grants to Home Depot to pay for the building renovations and Habitat for Humanity will also provide the manpower for the cleanup.
And with those relationships, Love said Lunch Break will not only continue its longstanding mission, but also expand it as she sees fit.
“Lunch Break is just really excited to embark on this new direction,” Love said. “We think that it just makes sense.”
This article was first published in the Feb. 8-15, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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