I spent a huge part of my life wondering ‘what’s wrong with me?’ Sometimes we are our own worst enemy or sometimes fate deals us a bad hand. I have learned the hard way that it is how we deal with those situations that shows us who we really are and what we are made of. The short version of a very long story is that the road that brought me to the Soul Kitchen started when I was very young and grew up being bullied, beat up and told I was worthless by the very people who I should have trusted—family, spouse, friends.
I was also surrounded by addiction, be it alcohol, heroin, cocaine; it was the ‘norm’ in my world. By the time I was 35, I had been married, divorced, had 3 children, been through (and kicked out of) rehab a few times, attempted suicide. I continued to wonder what was wrong with me that made those that ‘loved’ me want to hit me, hurt me and tell me I was worthless. Somehow a tiny little voice inside me always managed to remind me to not give up. I finally found the strength to walk away from the abusers, the drugs and the people who weren’t worth my time. I started down a new and successful path and found what I thought was happiness in the fact I found a great job, had a new circle of ‘healthy’ friends and was financially stable and independent. I even got to the point that I was able to buy my own dream home. However, one of the biggest and toughest lessons I needed to learn was yet to come.
I celebrated the arrival of the new millennium with open arms, but the changes that it brought to my life pushed me to once again ask ‘why me?’ With the tech crash, 9/11 and the bottom falling out of the advertising field where I was employed, I found myself at rock bottom financially, out of a job and buried in debt. Unemployment wasn’t covering the mortgage and in my recently found success I had been unwise and naïve in my investments. In December of 2002, two weeks before Christmas, I became homeless. Fortunately my children were grown and out of the house, so I was only dealing with keeping some sort of shelter over my head. I spent a long and bitter cold winter living in my car, in a tent and in a small boat moored at the docks on the Columbia River in Washington. Since it was winter the docks were virtually abandoned so it was easy to sneak in and out of the public restrooms to shower and get ready for the minimum wage telemarketing job I was lucky to have found. I kept my work clothes in my trunk and lived on fast food or things that didn’t need to be heated or refrigerated. In May of 2003 I had saved enough to get an apartment and start rebuilding my future. Once again, that little voice inside me kept telling me not to give up.
In 2004 I made another big change. With the encouragement of my grown children I packed up my belongings and took a chance and moved to another city. Within 2 months I had a new job with a great company. The person that hired me took a chance too. I have no degree, but I do possess a strong work ethic and a willingness to learn and apparently a personality that’s a little wacky but enthusiastic. The philosophy of my employer is that everyone should give back. Be grateful. Be inspired. Inspire others. And my company backs that up. For every dollar an employee donates to charity, the company matches it. Now I don’t make a ton, but I do make enough to donate something each month, but I wanted to do more. I especially wanted to try and make a difference for those in the world like me--those who have been told they aren’t worthy, those who have been dealt a bad hand but keep on pushing through, those who just need someone to see the person inside of them, the one with value, in spite of how broken they might be. Fortunately my employer had this covered as well. They encourage us to volunteer and to ‘go big’ with it. For every hour we volunteer our time, my company donates to that charity.*
Enter the Soul Kitchen. When I first saw the ‘Hope is Delicious’ phrase, it spoke to me in way I couldn’t express. I knew that hope had been the tiny voice keeping me going, keeping me alive. The first time I ate there I could feel the hope in the room. I know it sounds corny, but it’s true. While it felt good to pay that bill and leave enough to pay for a few others, something told me I could do more. It took me a couple of months, but I finally had the conversation with Ryan about becoming a volunteer. A year and a half later and I’ve gotten back so much more than I have given. I have been fed, not just fantastic meals, but food for my soul. The staff, fellow volunteers and guests alike have all shown me what a difference can be made when we put our hearts into something.
So ‘what’s wrong with me?’ Absolutely nothing. Everyone has value, everyone deserves love and kindness. So if you can volunteer in your community, please do, I’m sure it will touch you in ways you never imagined. If you can’t, then I ask you to realize that in your everyday life, you can make a real difference in someone else’s world. Smile. Ask someone “how are you today?”—and then listen to their answer. Offer words of encouragement, share a story, laugh out loud, give a hug, and dry a tear. It may change someone’s world and will most definitely make yours better too.
*Since May of 2011, my small monthly cash donation with company match, coupled with a little over 800 volunteer hours has resulted in a monetary donation for the Soul Kitchen that I could never have written a check for. I wish more companies offered a cash for volunteer hour matching program, but more and more are offering this to their employees, so please, if you are volunteering somewhere, please check with your employer to see if there’s any funding to go along with your gift of time.
To support Soul Kitchen and help us to continue to help others, please donate
In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Solari Creative (located in both Red Bank, NJ and Aberdeen, MD) worked with the Association of the United States Army, Fort Monmouth and Aberdeen Chapters, to organize the Revive - Rebuild – Restore event. This event gave those individuals and corporations transplanted from NJ to Aberdeen, MD (following the Fort Monmouth BRAC – Base Realignment and Closure) the opportunity to give back to the Jersey Shore and help those hardest hit by the storm.
There were over 300 people in attendance and over 30 different corporations and individuals sponsored the event. Through the hard work and generosity of many, they were able to raise a significant amount of money and distributed 100% of the proceeds to the charities listed below. The bulk went to the recovery, but they also wanted to make sure that those helping in relief were able to continue their missions.
The JBJ Soul Kitchen is honored to be one of the beneficiaries of the Revive – Rebuild – Restore event and thank everyone involved for their generous donation.
Proceeds from this event will benefit the following organizations:
Rebuild Monmouth Fund, United Way of Monmouth County
Hurricane Sandy Recovery Fund, United Way of Ocean County
Habitat for Humanity - Coastal & Northeast Monmouth Chapters
New Jersey National Guard State Family Readiness Council
Marine Academy of Science & Technology (MAST) Parent Teacher Student Association MAST Relief Fund
JBJ Soul Foundation Soul Kitchen
Toy donations will go to Santa’s Sandy Hands
The fundraising sponsor of this event was The Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Aberdeen Chapter, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization: ausa-aberdeen.org
For more information on the original event held, please visit: reviverebuildrestore.com
Photo: Christine from Solari Creative presenting Ryan, Soul Kitchen Manager, with a donation from the Revive – Rebuild – Restore event.
Life is always so interesting and if you do not think so, wait around awhile and you will inevitably be surprised. I remember when my son was an infant as I was trying to master the art if mommy-hood. Just when I had the routine down it would change. This has been true time and time again. The trick is to try and embrace the change that gets thrown our way but that is easier said the done.
I am also a person who practices yoga so these ideals are very present in my mission statement for life. Putting these ideals into action and remembering to breathe and be in the moment is an art to master; thus the 'practice'.
One of my biggest challenges to date was the night of Super Storm Sandy that resulted in the complete and total destruction of my business. I owned a yoga spa in Sea Bright and saw ten years of hard work ripped out from under me. This has been a surreal period of time digesting fully the scope and recoil of this event. It has been such an emotional loss and one whose process will continue to unfold for years to come.
There are small blessings along the way that help so much to give inspiration and comfort in the wake of the devastation. One bright spot for me, along with all the outpouring of love and support from many kind souls, has been the time I have spent volunteering at Soul Kitchen. This stands out apart from all else as a place that I could maintain a sense of purpose and feel good about giving service to the community. The people there are so welcoming, supportive and definitely have a well defined mission and outreach to those in transition. I am proud to be a part of such a well thought out and executed organization.
I am happy to report that I have recently secured new employment. I will always recommend Soul Kitchen as a place to find a warm, friendly atmosphere, an ear to listen, and a delicious meal prepared with love. Thank you Soul Kitchen for making a difference in my life and helping to weather a super storm. I will never forget you.
Girl Scout Troop 770, from Andover Township, NJ is comprised of 12 amazing young ladies who are in 6th grade. The girls have continuously sought out community service opportunities, and today was no exception. Only 7 of the 12 girls were available today, and it took us 2 hours to get down the shore, but once there we spent 3 1/2 hours cleaning up the beach in Sea Bright with the Clean Oceans Alliance.
We then headed over to JBJ Soul Kitchen because the girls have wanted to check out the concept of the restaurant for quite some time. When the trip was arranged I told the girls that Troop funds would cover their meals, but I challenged them to figure out a way for each of them to raise an additional $10 to "Pay It Forward" so someone who otherwise couldn't afford a meal could have one on us.
The girls then took it a step further and said how about we set a goal of how much to raise, and settled on $500. Through their hard work, their parents dedication to help them grow into caring, accountable adults, one girl's brilliant idea of requesting donations from the faculty and staff of their school, and some last minute folks who stepped up and made donations, they raised the $500!
We know our donation will help many who are less fortunate. We truly enjoyed the day and the meal was absolutely delicious. We are very grateful to everyone at the JBJ Soul Kitchen for standing behind such an amazing concept that became a reality, that we were able to partake in and learn from.
In conclusion, our Troop motto is "GO M.A.D.," as in, Go Make A Difference!! Thank you so much for allowing us an opportunity to do just that!
Patti & Billie, Leaders
And the girls of Troop 770:
Kelsey, Davis-Ann, Kayla H., Lexi K., Nicole, Avery & Molly along with their helper Carter (pictured) and Erica, Lexi B., Kayla B., Taylor, and Gabriella.
"Great idea, Great food"
"My husband is unemployed and not well, I am on dialysis, so this was such a pleasure."
"As a foreclosure survivor, thank you for the courtesies and dignity you give to your guests."
"This was a wonderful experience. Very humbling and I am blessed to have this opportunity"
"Having lost my job a over a year ago, I appreciate a place to enjoy great food and nice people being on a very limited budget right now. Hope to see more Soul Kitchens in the NJ and NYC area in the future."