The winter has been long and cold in New Jersey and the Soul Foundation’s partnership in opening the Hope and Comfort Warming Center with Pilgrim Baptist Church has been a helpful respite for our homeless population. Soul Kitchen opened early on Code Blue days when we received an alert from the Office of Emergency Management that the temperatures would be below 32 degrees or there was snow in the forecast. Soul Kitchen opened as a warming station and served hot coffee, tea, and water, followed by a hot meal after 5:00 pm. Many days every seat was full. Those in need of a warm place to stay overnight would be transported to the Warming Center a few blocks away, where they would find cots, hot showers, and a washer-dryer to clean and dry clothes. We met many new people struggling with homelessness in the bitter cold, and we were grateful that they found us for a hot meal and some comfort. Soul Kitchen also provided meals to the Warming Center which has become a welcomed addition to our community and a model for other towns and boroughs in our county.

We could take this time to tell you all about the amazing work we have been doing in our communities, the number of meals served (91,000 to date), the number of people who found jobs through our Employment and Empowerment Team (16 volunteers secured jobs), list the number of volunteer hours (over 15,000 last year) but I think this story sums it all up nicely: I was in Soul Kitchen yesterday and I looked up to see one of our in-need volunteers walking through the gardens to our door. Mike was a long-time volunteer dishwasher at Soul Kitchen when we first opened. He was a hard worker but struggled with homelessness, mental health, and physical disability issues. He volunteered often and would then eat with us. During his time with us, Marylou, our Community Programs Manager, directed him to resources for his health issues. In addition, she helped him find temporary housing, and she told him about other resources available to him.  The last we had heard, he had moved in with a relative and I hadn’t seen him in over a year. I often wondered what happened to him.

Mike came into the restaurant and gave me a big hug. He said he stopped by to hug everyone and say “hi”. He let us know he had a pot roast in the oven in his new apartment where he has been living for the last year. He feels great, has a job, and is doing well. Mike left shortly after saying hi to everyone and walked out. Marylou and I looked at each other with tears in our eyes as we watched him get in his car(!) and drive off. That is what giving someone a hand up can do; small kindnesses and gestures can impact people more than we might ever know.

With Spring around the corner, we are looking forward to warmer weather and getting our hands in the dirt at Soul Kitchen Farms and Gardens. Our talented chefs are creating seasonal menus around what will be available, and we look forward to the deliciousness of these dishes.

JBJ Soul Kitchen was recently awarded Edible Jersey’s 2019 Local Heroes Award for non-profits. We were thrilled to be recognized by this magazine which features some of the best restaurants in New Jersey.

As always, we thank you for your support, and we hope to see you soon at either JBJ Soul Kitchen locations, or both!