Lendell Shirely understands the importance of eating healthy.
Canned food and packaged goods just don't compare to fresh fruits and vegetables. Not in the area of taste, and certainly not in the area of nutrition. On a fixed income it can be difficult enough to stock the pantry with fresh produce, she said. Add having to take care of an unexpected 17-month old granddaughter to the mix, the septuagenarian said, and suddenly healthy eating has become a wallet-busting reality.
No more is this truth more widely recognized than at , Red Bank's combination soup kitchen, food pantry and social services provider. To help combat the rising costs of fresh produce, Lunch Break has instituted a new program called the Community Gardener's Market at Lunch Break.
Every Tuesday through September, Lunch Break is offering a free spread of fresh fruits and uncooked vegetables to help supplement the groceries of those in need of assistance.
"Fresh produce, fresh fruits especially, you can't afford it," Shirley said. "They tell you to eat well, but you can't. When your income is the same but you have to take on another person, it gets hard.
"I think this is great; it's just a great idea."
Tuesday was the launch of the community garden program. Organizers are hoping to spread the word that Lunch Break is offering fresh produce not only to those residents who need it, but to local farmers and markets that are able to help the cause by donating. Betsy Wattley, a Lunch Break volunteer, said that donations had come in from places such as Trader Joe's and Sickles Market — a regular Lunch Break donor.
Lunch Break even found donations from the Red Bank Farmers Market held each Sunday. Volunteers asked market organizers if they would donate to support the produce effort and were rewarded with plenty of produce that wasn't sold that day. And therein lies the the beauty of the program, Wattley said. With produce having such a short shelf life, there's plenty of extra that can be shared.
"We're hoping to instill a community spirit as well as minimize waste," she said. "Farmers have excess; markets have excess. Now they can bring it to us."
Lunch Break collects the fresh produce donations each Monday. Wattley, a community gardener in Shrewsbury, said she hopes more people get involved in the fledgling program. You don't have to be a farmer with hundreds of acres to make a difference, she said. Even someone with a backyard garden who has more than they need — such as a local gardener who brought in a couple of basil plants Tuesday —can contribute to the effort.
"We want this to be a community thing where people can give and take freely," she said.
The Community Gardener's Market at Lunch Break is held every Tuesday from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Donations are accepted every Monday. For more information or to donate, visit the Lunch Break website or call 732-747-8577.