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ELCA World Hunger

A Year Like No Other


St. Matthew Trinity Lutheran Church’s Lunchtime Ministry offers a warm meal, hospitality and community to neighbors in Hoboken, New Jersey. This important work is supported in part by a Domestic Hunger Grant from ELCA World Hunger. Stanley Enzweiler is the Program Manager of St. Matthew Trinity’s Lunchtime Ministry and has worked with the ministry since 2016. In this post, Stanley reflects on the uncertainty and stress the community faced in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic – and on the hope, hard work and perseverance that has kept Lunchtime Ministry going. You can read a previous post from Stanley here.

March 16th, 2020, I didn’t want to open the door. The guests, I knew, were crowded outside, ready to rush in, grab a seat, and line up for coffee. They were expecting a long, leisurely morning with steaming cups of soup served to their tables by volunteers who knew their names. At Lunchtime Ministry (LTM), a soup kitchen/drop-in center in the heart of Hoboken, New Jersey, everything is free: the coffee, the wifi, the laughter, and the community. Today, all that was about to change.

I unlocked the door. “Hang on, everyone,” I said. “You have to come in one at a time. Wash your hands, and then I will give you a bagged lunch. We’re serving everything to go.”

For years, LTM had been a pillar of stability in people’s lives. We were open every Monday to Thursday, holidays and blizzards be darned. Some of our guests had gone through the same routine every day for years.

But that weekend in March 2020, the country had shut down around us. A new world had arrived. The virus could be anywhere.  Masks were not yet required, and people argued about whether gloves did any good. Instead of saying “Goodbye,” we told each other to “Stay safe.”

LTM was shutting down too. Our priority was keeping each other healthy—but avoiding COVID was just part of the picture. It was cold outside, and our guests had nowhere to go.  Some of them stopped coming to LTM, and I still don’t know where they ended up.  One woman sat down on the floor in front of the coffee machine and refused to leave.

We worked with the Hoboken Shelter and the local welfare office to lodge some of our older and less healthy guests in hotel rooms. As much as this helped space out our homeless population, several of our hotel guests continued to come to LTM every morning. That’s how much our community mattered.

As the summer went by, we borrowed an idea pioneered by some restaurants in Hoboken and opened up our own strEATery: outdoor tables and chairs where guests could sit together and enjoy to-go food. This gave us back a taste of the community we had missed so much. In Autumn, we began reopening for volunteers and asking our community to donate hot dishes, which we served in to-go cups.  And when temperatures dropped, we opened back up inside. We have limited our capacity in accordance with statewide regulations, and we have continued to enforce hand-washing, masks, and social distancing. Of course, it is much more work serving people inside than providing food to go, but having our community back has been worth it.

We have worked closely with other local services, including the Hoboken Shelter, the city’s food pantries, and the county’s clinics. We have provided our guests, volunteers, and community members with onsite flu shots, health screenings, and, this spring, over 150 COVID-19 vaccines. Individuals, schools, restaurants and spas from across the country have overwhelmed us with their support, donating food, hygiene items and money; spreading the word about LTM; and providing moral support. At least once a week, I hear from a former volunteer who wants to say hello and see how they can help.


This has been a year like no other. We are not used to thinking on our feet and changing things up at LTM, especially not when lives hang in the balance. But everyone has had to adapt this year, and through it all, LTM has continued to be there for our guests. We have provided as many services as we can while keeping our population healthy.

Who knows what the next steps will be?  Regardless, we’ll take them.

God’s work through the guests, volunteers and community members at LTM still continues – and continues to thrive! As of April 2021, over 500 vaccines have been distributed through LTM and its partners. With more community members protected, LTM has been able to offer more events at its site, including screenings for HIV, blood pressure, and glucose levels, haircuts for guests, assistance signing up for health insurance and housing, and fundraisers to keep the ministry going.

“The lifeline that never goes away”: St. Matthew Trinity’s Lunchtime Ministry


St. Matthew Trinity Lutheran Church’s Lunchtime Ministry offers a warm meal, hospitality and community to neighbors in Hoboken, New Jersey. This important work is supported in part by a Domestic Hunger Grant from ELCA World Hunger. Stanley Enzweiler is the Program Manager of St. Matthew Trinity’s Lunchtime Ministry and has worked with the ministry since 2016. Below, he shares more about what this ministry means to the people of Hoboken. To apply for a Domestic Hunger Grant to support your ministry, visit

Everyone’s life, at some point, takes an unexpected body blow. An accident, an addiction, the loss of a job or family member. These forces come out of nowhere, and for a while, it seems like the world is against you. However, eventually someone throws you a lifeline—a good lawyer shows up, a friend makes a job offer, or time spent in the stability of everyday life heals that wound.


Lots of people who have come back from having their feet kicked out from under them believe that those in the worst shape—people who are homeless or living in poverty—are either lazy or helpless. “I helped myself, so why can’t you?” moralizes one person, while another shakes their head, saying, “I’ve been so fortunate, and all these poor people are just down on their luck. No one actually wants to be homeless.”

As anyone who has worked in a social service will tell you, both perspectives take it too far.  Many people in poverty have gotten the wind knocked out of them, but, unlike those in more fortunate situations, they haven’t had lifelines thrown their way. They often don’t have a stable job to begin with, or their family and friends are unable to give them a loan or a place to stay.  On the other hand, many people have simply rejected or misused the lifelines thrown to them.  And yes, some people do want to be homeless.

What I love about St. Matthew Trinity Lunchtime Ministry, a soup kitchen and drop-in center operating out of St. Matthew Trinity Lutheran Church in Hoboken, New Jersey, is that we don’t care about that stuff. Of the 65 or so people we serve every day, some are looking for work, some are waiting on their benefits to come in, some are about to lose their housing, and some enjoy living on the streets. But we do not screen our guests based on why they are in need. We don’t ask for your fingerprints or your ID or your immigration status. Our only requirement is respect for the people and space around you. We’ll give you a warm meal, a fresh pair of socks, and a listening ear no matter what you did last year or last night. Whatever your story is, we will welcome you.

And here’s the really amazing thing. Even if you break the rules at Lunchtime Ministry and have to leave our community for a few days, we will always welcome you back. Everyone messes up a time or two, but no one is beyond forgiveness. We are one lifeline that never goes away.

Len (pictured at left), one of our longtime guests, was generous enough to share his story with us. Born in Jersey City in 1959, he attended technical school in Texas before getting deployed to California to work as a forklift driver for the U.S. Air Force. After his honorable discharge, he stayed in California until his father died, and he returned to New Jersey to take care of his mother. She died in 2011, leaving him with nowhere to go. Although he stayed at other county shelters, a few bad decisions got him kicked out of these for life.

Len came to Lunchtime Ministry as a last resort. Although we are not an overnight shelter, he is able to get a few hours of sleep on our benches or floor during our open hours. Like many of our guests, he helps out when needed by cleaning tables, taking out the garbage and posting event flyers. He also attends church services, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and Bible study. Most of all, he is known for encouraging our volunteers with one-liners such as “This is the best food in town…and I’m not just talking about the prices!”

Like many social services, we are a community effort.  We welcome volunteers from all walks of life and enjoy partnerships with numerous other social services. Our financial support comes from various sources, including ELCA World Hunger’s Domestic Hunger Grant, whose recent gift toward our food and supply costs will assist us in continuing to dish out delicious and filling meals every day.

It’s easy to list the things that make Lunchtime Ministry unique—the food donations from restaurants as diverse as Qdoba Mexican Grill and Schnackenberg’s Luncheonette, the free haircuts on Mondays, the cardboard barn in which we collect spare change for ELCA World Hunger, the “billritos” that our chef Bill makes from scratch on Wednesdays, the guitar music half an hour before we close. But when we’re asked why our program is necessary to Hoboken, there’s only one answer: respect. For many people in town, we are the one place where they can spend a peaceful morning, the one place where they have a forgiving community, the one place where they can go when they have burned all their other bridges.  In Len’s words:

“A little respect goes a long way.  A lot of respect could be eternal.”