Community Champion: Jennifer Botwick

Community Champion

Community Champion: Jennifer Botwick

Lunch Brake is a homespun effort that delivers lunch bags filled with protein-rich snacks, water, and nonperishable foods to those in need.

In many cities, pulling up to a busy intersection might prompt encounters with individuals in need with signs in hand, asking for help. After finding herself in these instances numerous times in her hometown of New Haven, Connecticut, Jennifer Botwick resolved to take action.

“I often felt uncomfortable reaching for money or giving money, not having any, or just feeling kind of stumped. I decided to address this and do something about it—my discomfort and the huge ongoing need,” she recalls.

With the help of her son, Jacob, Lunch Brake was formed, and the pair began filling brown paper lunch bags with protein-rich snacks, water, and nonperishable foods. She keeps these bags in her vehicle for any opportunity that may arise and includes her phone number on them in case anyone wants to get in touch or is in need of more items.

“Of course,” she acknowledges, “it doesn’t get to the systemic problems like why are they hungry and homeless in the first place. But, until that changes, that’s what we have been doing as a family. Part of it, to me, is just cultivating the awareness that there are people in need.”

Last Thanksgiving, Jennifer hosted a Lunch Brake party, inviting friends to help her fill bags, requesting that each person bring their own contribution. After filling nearly 100 bags, she then sent everyone home with some, charging them to distribute to those in need.

“They were a little surprised at first,” she remembers, “but, it’s like, now you get the pay it forward! And I loved what happened afterward: A lot of people shared their stories—a delightful side effect of people’s interactions.”

One specific interaction came after one of her friends kept seeing a familiar face on her route every day. “Several days into it, she asked him his name,” explains Jennifer. “I guess that blew his mind—he was no longer a faceless homeless person. He was a person.”

Working with her son is an essential component of the program for Jennifer. Jacob is a 23-year-old high-functioning individual with Down Syndrome. “He is really so much a part of this,” she says. “He is great about pointing out when we are driving around. I love to see that he understands and he knows that other people have challenges just like him.”

In the future, Jennifer hopes individuals in other cities will adopt and grow the idea of Lunch Brake. She also plans to reach out to local businesses and big-box stores such as Costco and BJ’s to garner donations.

“It’s not really mine,” she suggests. “This is an idea. Take it. Anybody can do it. It is very simple—but it is meaningful. To see something small making such a difference, that’s really what I want us to do.”

To contribute to Lunch Brake and Jennifer’s efforts, you can donate to [email protected] via PayPal. And if you start your own similar Lunch Brake group, let us know!

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