On Thanksgiving Day, Governor-elect Phil Murphy seemed just as comfortable taking orders as giving them. He brought the entire Murphy clan to serve hot turkey meals at Lunch Break in Red Bank, a 34-year-old soup kitchen, food pantry and service center serving Monmouth County.
“We have people coming every day,” said Lunch Break Executive Director Gwendolyn Love. “Last year we served close to 60,000 hot meals at Lunch Break. In addition to that, we have our food pantry where we had close to 800 people coming in, 800 families coming in, every month.”
Love calls it a one-stop shop for those in need, offering mentorship, fellowship, clothing and life skills. The Murphys, she says, are no strangers, being actively involved for years.
Those in attendance are grateful to have the governor-elect’s ear on a day when hunger and poverty are amplified for the people whose lives it affects.
“People need jobs, they need training, they need on the job training where they get paid, so that they can get paid while they’re getting trained. The reality is that people want to work and they need to be able to make a meaningful paycheck so they can take care of their families. People want to be self-sufficient and they really are very resilient. Given the opportunity they will do that. They’ll step up to the plate,” said Love.
“The rent is ridiculous and it’s getting worse and worse so hopefully the elected officials can get some type of rent control or something. You know, $2,000 to $3,000 a month is definitely not affordable. I mean you literally have to live with 10 people in order to survive,” said Lunch Break client Brenda Jordan.
Jordan sat down for Thanksgiving with her daughter, mom and boyfriend. She’s used services here often enough, living in one of the most expensive counties in the state.
“The income is not going up, but the prices are always going up or you’re always being taxed, so you can’t be self-sufficient or get ahead,” she said.
“Many of our clients also have jobs, part-time but low paying and they’re not permanent jobs, so they can’t make ends meet. Well over 60 percent of our clients have some type of job, so for us it’s about getting them on a path to a longer term career, whether that might be in health care, in business or other social services,” said Josh Klein, president of the Lunch Break board of trustees.
That’s why Klein says Lunch Break, which was recently expanded, offers clients more than 30 different programs.
“We just started a life skills center, it’s our career center program, and we’re able to fill gaps within the various programs throughout the state,” he said. “So we‘re able to help people, particularly our clients, get back into the workforce. That’s our hope over time is to help people during the hard times, help them move forward and get back on their feet again.”
Inice Hennessy runs the clothing program. Dressing clients for jobs, proms, weddings — you name it. She’s been volunteering for 25 years, after first receiving services here.
“It’s rewarding. It’s rewarding. You see one person dressed up to go for an interview and they get the job and you know that you were part of that. It’s really rewarding,” said Hennessy.
How does Murphy plan to tackle these issues? He’s been stumping to raise the minimum wage and promised a tax on millionaires as a revenue source, but he declined any policy questions today.
“You also see, by the way, where we need a stronger safety net in this state. You have too many people who are going without. A woman was telling me that her mom is basically being pushed out of housing. Affordable housing is a big issue, food security, access to food. And you ask yourself, where would you be without an institution like this, so we’re honored to be here today,” Murphy said.
The folks spending Thanksgiving day at Lunch Break are putting a lot of faith in the governor-elect and his progressive agenda to carry out the motto practiced here: “Help for today, hope for tomorrow.”