Not only does Chef Wendy Escobedo make the most incredible dishes, but the love of the volunteers for those in need is astounding.

(During this visit I sat with some wonderful local business women! Photo courtesy of Soul Kitchen)

I recently had the pleasure of dining at JBJ Soul Kitchen in Red Bank with some wonderful friends to celebrate the work that SK does in our community, and it reminded me that not only does this place make for a wonderful date night or evening out with family, friends, or co-workers, but the mission of Soul Kitchen is so important.

For years now, this wonderful restaurant has been serving up meals not only to those out for a night on the town, but for those who aren't always privileged enough to be able to afford a meal at all.

(One of Chef Wendy's amazing dishes at Soul Kitchen, photo by Liz Jeressi)

I spoke with Dorothea Bongiovi a couple of nights ago when I crossed paths with her at the restaurant, and we were both in tears after a personal story she told about a man who had been dining at Soul Kitchen for years.

He may have been in need of food due to his circumstances, and he may have had some mental disabilities, but he was always treated with warmth and smiles and no-questions-asked meals at SK and had come to love the volunteers and staff at SK.

(Another delicious dish by Chef Wendy at Soul Kitchen, photo by Liz Jeressi)

That's what I love about SK. When you go there to dine, there is no distinction between those who are paying/donating, and those who are receiving when they can't afford to pay. Everyone is treated with the same level of respect and kindness. As if they are family.

The volunteers give so much of their time to wash dishes, help cook and serve, clean bathrooms, take out the trash, etc.....for no payment and with great joy. They really get it. They realize the gift of giving is powerful.

(This was literally the best dessert I ever had in my life! By Chef Wendy at Soul Kitchen. Photo by Liz Jeressi)

As Dorothea and I chatted, she touched on the fact that there is still such a stigma of people feeling ashamed if they have a loved one with a mental illness or someone in their life who is down on their luck (for too many reasons to list.) Dorothea and everyone who is part of the family at Soul Kitchen want you to know that you are always welcomed and that there should be no embarrassment in seeking out a meal.

Anyone can volunteer their time in exchange for a meal, and anyone can dine and donate to pay it forward in knowing that you are providing meals for those in need.

We love you, Soul Kitchen. If you haven't yet been there, check them out for dinner in Red Bank or lunch in Toms River, where they also have a food pantry.

CLICK HERE and HERE for info on the Red Bank Soul Kitchen.

CLICK HERE and HERE for info on the Toms River location.

(Photo by Liz Jeressi)