The homeless and working poor will be able to get free breakfast and lunch twice a week in Freehold this winter, thanks to the Latino Coalition's Sanctuary Program, now in its 12th year. 

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The Santuary program initially began as way to give day laborers a break from the cold by offering them warm meals, according to Co-Coordinator Ann Bagchi. It has expanded over the years to include the homeless and working poor.

"And its become well known throughout the community, so we've seen more and more people coming every year," said Bagchi.

Some people stop by once or twice during the season, but others come each week, according to Bagchi.

"So, I think that's probably the strongest sign that the program is needed and serves the community more broadly," Bagchi said.

Bagchi pointed out that providing the free meals through the Sanctuary Program allows the Latino Coalition to identify other needs people may have, such as issues with health, housing or help paying bills.

"There is an opportunity there to help expand services and people appreciate that as well," said Bagchi. She noted a lot of people just don't know how to get linked into the services they need.

"We try to either help them ourselves or identify the right resources that can provide them the services they need," Bagchi said.

Although the Latino Coalition spreads awareness of the Sanctuary Program through flyers, word of mouth continues to be the best way to reach people, according to Bagchi. She added especially with day laborers, gaining trust is essential.

Bagchi recalled a touching encounter she recently had with a gentleman who knows her through the Sanctuary Program. He told her to take care of herself because "We need you."

"That's a very moving moment for me, because it says that there is a need there, people feel cared for and dignified, and that's the most important gift I think you can give anyone aside from just meeting the basic need for food and shelter," Bagchi said.

This Sanctuary Program begins this Saturday, December 19, with breakfast and lunch being served at the First United Methodist Church, 91 West Main Street, Freehold.

Every Saturday through March 12, 2016, the program will offer breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. to Noon. Breakfast will be offered every Friday at the Methodist Church beginning January 8, 2016, and ending on March 11, 2016 from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m.

The Sanctuary program served between 150 to 200 meals a week, according to Bagchi. It is completely run by volunteers and relies on donations.

In addition to meals, the Sanctuary Program provides people with blood pressure screenings and HIV/AIDS testing and a variety of speakers that provide the community with information on a wide range of topics from tax preparation, immigration, and health insurance enrollment assistance through the federally-facilitated Health Insurance Marketplace.