Jon Bon Jovi is renowned across the country for his successful career in the music industry; however, locally, he is also well-known for creating JBJ Soul Kitchen, a community outreach program that provides meals for those who can otherwise not afford it. JBJ Soul Kitchen has multiple locations, including establishments in Red Bank and Toms River, and a newly opened restaurant at the Newark Campus of Rutgers University.
On Tuesday, February 25th, the executive chef from the Red Bank branch of JBJ Soul Kitchen, Wendy Escobedo, visited Middletown South and prepared a meal in the cafeteria for South’s staff and students. Local 130 Seafood in Asbury Park donated locally-sourced hake fish for the Mardi Gras-themed meal of fish and grits. Escobedo also provided free samples to capture interest for the event.
As Escobedo explains, JBJ Soul Kitchen’s mission is to assist struggling members of the community across New Jersey. “The way the program works is that we are a non-profit, so if you cannot afford a meal, you can volunteer in exchange for one. It’s really great because it’s a regular restaurant–we change the menu every two weeks and we use all fresh ingredients from our farm.”
The Mardi Gras-themed meal on Tuesday was prepared with the help of Home Economics students, some of whom have volunteered at the JBJ Soul Kitchen in the past, as the restaurant greatly encourages the participation of community volunteers. Escobedo explains that, “The high school students are basically the staff at the restaurant, they serve tables, wash dishes, and help us get the food ready. A lot of students that I have had volunteer at JBJ have even gone on to work at certain restaurants, so it’s just a cool place for them to be.”
As for why JBJ Soul Kitchen held an event for South students, Escobedo states, “We just want to get more people engaged in the mission – to support us, raise money, or volunteer at the restaurant. It’s really a community spot, it only works when the community helps to foster it. I think that it’s important [to come visit South], especially to break up the high school students’ day.”
Many students seemed to appreciate the opportunity to order food that is not typically offered in the cafeteria, and small crowds could be seen taking samples of the provided cuisine. As for the important message that inspired JBJ Soul Kitchen, Escobedo reminds, “One of the things that most people take for granted is just to get to sit down for a meal. I think a lot of people grow up not realizing how much of a privilege that is. Just to sit down and talk to people is really nice. The great thing about the restaurant is that we have community seating, kind of like a cafeteria. You just sit down with someone you might never have spoken to or have never met, and you get to know each other. Great conversations are always over meals.”