by Kennedi M., 17
Love. It’s one of the purest emotions to grace the earth. In its most tender moments, it can be the very thing that aches the most. Yet, despite all of its hardships, “it becomes a part of you,” says Gwendolyn Love.
When meeting Gwendolyn Love for the first time, I can admittedly say her presence was like a ray of light beaming back at me on our Zoom call. With every question I’d ask her, her eyes would radiate with pride, gradually increasing in size as she’d describe the legacy of Lunch Break that she now had the honor of directing. I couldn’t help but gush at Mrs. Love as she told me about the future projects she had planned for the organization, along with the team she visibly possessed deep respect for. Whenever she answered one of my questions, I leaned closer to the camera, visibly beckoned by the anecdote or Lunch Break success she had recounted. Through community, struggle, and shared laughter whenever we had to rejoin the Zoom call due to 40 minutes not being long enough to suffice our conversation, Mrs. Love told me a story of truth. Yet, above all, she taught me that love will always be the force that powers through in the end.
For Gwendolyn Love, her role as only the second Executive Director of the nonprofit organization Lunch Break is a title she wears with honor.
An integral member of Lunch Break for over 15 years, Mrs. Love’s recurring word throughout our interview was “community.”
“It’s fulfilling,” she would state, “and that’s what keeps me going.”
Much of her connection to Lunch Break originates from her experiences, such as growing up in public housing and having a mother depend on food stamps to feed her family. Thus, Mrs. Love profoundly understands how the people coming into Lunch Break seeking aid, support, and resources may feel. Her irrefutable empathy and personal experiences make her a brilliant Executive Director.
Before joining Lunch Break, Gwendolyn worked in a government redevelopment program for five years. During that time, Mrs. Love recalls how seeing the neglect in the community was something she simply couldn’t overlook, as she found she liked helping those in need. Though at the time, she couldn’t do much to aid said individuals as the government had specific regulations she had to follow. After leaving her position, volunteering for Lunch Break, and becoming the Executive Director of Lunch Break, she had much more freedom. From designing a new program geared toward the needs of the majority or personally going into the community and hearing and relating to their concerns and experiences, Mrs. Love sees Lunch Break as a safety net for people going through various challenges in their life.
This sense of community is derived from the generational aspect and longevity of individuals within Lunch Break. Some members have been working with coaches in the organization for over three years and hence have been able to develop long-term friendships and connections and know there’s a place they can go to to get their needs met.
“We take care of the people—it’s the people first,” states Mrs. Love.
Even during the peak of COVID, when many experienced lockdown, Lunch Break’s community dynamic never faltered.
“We closed, and served our last meal on a Saturday for breakfast, and when we opened up on Monday, we had already transitioned everything (flyers, bags, to-go items, etc.) throughout the week.”
When telling me this, Mrs. Love spoke with an admirable degree of content and altruism, as one could sense that the people within Lunch Break had her back, and she had theirs.
“Lunch Break,” according to Mrs. Love, is “a place where people come to get hope.” The people there all care so deeply about their initiative of change and genuinely know they are doing good. There’s no “black sheep” or one too afflicted who is beyond help, as Lunch Break aims to be everyone’s advocate and help them change for the better. Though some issues may seem too impossible or beyond their control, it’s undeniable that Lunch Break is a respected organization that aims to help those from all over.
When asked what advice she would give to one who wants to create an initiative similar to Lunch Break, Mrs. Love simply beamed and said, “DO IT because it’s needed.” People are always in need, and places like Lunch Break “provide so many ways to give and participate.” Her voice acts as a beacon of change for the organization she represents, as illustrated in her upcoming plans to build a housing unit for Lunch Break recipients. She’s a symbol of hope for those she provides for and works with, yet, most of all, she’s the embodiment of love both in and out.