Bread From Heaven Cafe serves up food and fellowship in Jackson's Knights hall
Story by Lois Rogers, Correspondent
On May 20, Helen Ludowig’s dream of a haven where people could gather weekly to break bread and share fellowship came true in the Knights of Columbus Hall on Bartley Road in Jackson.
For some time, Ludowig had felt called to embark on creating a soup kitchen/food pantry in Jackson where the resident and member of St. Aloysius Parish, observed a growing need.
And on this rare, sunny spring day, Bread From Heaven Cafe, Inc. opened with a flourish. St. Aloysius pastor, Father John P. Bambrick, who had helped with advice along the way, cut the bright yellow ribbon as members of the Knights of Columbus, the township’s ministerium and administration and some 30 volunteers signaled their approval with a round of applause.
Then the doors to the Columbian Room Hall opened and members of the community at large were welcomed to the first of what Ludowig and her team envision as regular Friday get-togethers for anyone in need of a meal and the comfort of companionship.
As volunteers dished up the full course dinner of vegetable soup, salad, pasta, roast chicken and cookies, the amiable Ludowig greeted the more than 20 folks who gathered for the opening, sharing her hopes that they will spread the word of the cafe.
As described in its mission statement, the non-profit cafe/pantry is a “safe haven where everyone is welcome for a hot meal and a food pantry so families can benefit from taking food home.”
When Ludowig shares her own background story, it’s easy to understand what fueled her desire to create an outreach such as Bread From Heaven.
It begins some six decades ago in Trenton when she and her two sisters, Sue and Cathy, lost their immigrant 28-year-old Italian mother to cancer at an early age. With their father unable to care for them, social services were called in she said, and at ages 4, 3 and 2, the little girls were taken to St. Michael’s Orphanage in nearby Hopewell.
“It took three or four years for us to be adopted all together,” she said. But the wait had a very good outcome. The trio was adopted together by wonderful parents. Together, they formed lasting, loving family bonds, she said.
The girls attended St. Peter School, New Brunswick, and when the time came, Helen went to business college in Texas where she hoped to carve out a career. She put aside that ambition, however and returned to New Jersey to stay close to her father after her mother died.
Ludowig worked in various administrative jobs for 17 years in New York and New Jersey including hospitals and said that all of her life experiences led her to want to “give something back.”
A member of St. Aloysius Parish for eight years, she said joined Holy Redeemer Hospice and volunteered to serve Thanksgiving dinners in the area, “but I always felt the need to do more.”
“Long ago, I said to a friend, ‘let’s quit our jobs and open a soup kitchen,” Ludowig recalled, but that dream remained on the back burner while she continued to work.
“I felt that all these years, God put me where he needed me to be,” she said just days before Bread From Heaven opened. “My life was a learning experience,” said Ludowig. Despite some nay-saying from well-meaning friends, she decided to put the experience to work toward a soup kitchen.
Ludowig reached out for direction to Father Bambrick and Olive Taylor, parish marketing director, who shared insight about starting up such an endeavor. She gleaned information from other area non-profits including Holiday Express; helped out at the weekly community meal at Visitation Parish in Brick and other soup kitchens for direct hands on experience and sought the expertise of friends and acquaintances she had made over the years as to ways to seeking funding and the like.
And very importantly, the Knights of Columbus came on board with an offer of their Columbian Room Hall from 11-1 p.m. on Fridays.
In less time than anyone expected – Ludowig included – Bread From Heaven was ready to roll.
Living the Dream
After he cut the ribbon and led the group in prayer, Father Bambrick reflected on the process that led to this day, how Ludowig “observed and learned” what was needed to bring it about, “brought volunteers on board and got them trained. It’s amazing … it was her vision and it was really special how (everyone) worked together in this Year of Mercy.”
Grand Knight Lou McGraw recalled how Ludowig reached out to the Knights. Her request, he said, dovetailed with the Knights focus on charity and they thought it was a good idea to let the cafe use the hall not only on Fridays, but on Thursday nights to set up.
“It’s community, its individuals its helping people who need help,” he said. “I told Helen that we would help, that the Knights have been here for 50 years running (community) events.”
Anne McInerney, outreach coordinator of Northern Ocean Habitat for Humanity and Janice Hennings of Jackson Women of Today, which operates the Jackson Food Pantry, agreed. They were among numerous representatives of area non-profits and churches who came out to support the initiative.
“It will grow,” said Hennings. “And if they need help, I’ll help.”