Feed Lucas County Children needs new homeWritten by Staff Reports | | email@example.com
By Kevin Moore, Toledo Free Press Staff Writer
Feed Lucas County Children (FLCC), a Toledo nonprofit dedicated bringing meals to impoverished children in Lucas County, recently received word that it would have to relocate from its current headquarters in the Macomber Building on Monroe Street.
FLCC, which has served 1.5 million meals since its founding in 2002, will need to find a new location to replace the 15,000-square-foot space it has rented for the past six years. In the interim, FLCC’s leadership has embarked on a fundraising campaign, an unprecedented move in the organization’s history, to raise at least $800,000 to renovate and move into an existing building or to build a new facility.
The new owner of the Macomber Building, the Cherry Street Mission, intends to use the space to consolidate the operations of 12 currently separate facilities under one roof. Cherry Street purchased the building from an Oregon state-based investment group in March and inherited FLCC as a renter. The building is in need of several renovations, and Cherry Street began developing a long-term strategic master plan in April.
“We had several conversations with [FLCC], and they asked if they could be included in the renovation plan,” said Cherry Street President and Chief Executive Officer Dan Rogers. “We seriously considered this, but determined that based on square footage there was not enough space for both operations. We knew they already had plans to move into a larger space, and that takes time so we wanted to give them a year to do that.”
As the number of children in Lucas County in need of meals has grown, FLCC’s efforts reached their limit this year and the organization announced plans in July to raise up to $1.3 million to build a larger kitchen capable of “slamming the door on child hunger in Lucas County.”
“You can’t move this size of an operation easily,” said FLCC Executive Director Tony Siebeneck. “It is doable, but we would need to find similar facilities — a restaurant or school cafeteria is not nearly large enough — or build. We are settling on one site, but we need funding.”
FLCC, which was created to feed hungry children during the summer when school lunch programs were unavailable, now operates year-round using a model in which meals are prepared in the organization’s expansive central kitchen and then distributed to 86 sites across Lucas County.
“When we started, we only had two sites,” Siebeneck said. “But our operations have consistently doubled in size every year. By prepping and cooking everything in one central location, we have complete control over the quality, consistency and nutrition of our food, all of which is reviewed by a dietitian and meets or exceeds regulations set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). To reach as many kids as possible, we deliver the meals to various distribution points like parks, churches and community centers.”
Roughly 200 volunteers prepare, cook, deliver and serve FLCC’s meals each day, which can number as high as 7,400. The increase in child hunger over the past decade, according to Siebeneck, is because the number of impoverished people living in Toledo has doubled from 15,000 to more than 30,000 despite the city’s overall shrinking population. Confirming these observations, the Brookings Institution released a study in 2011 that ranked Toledo first in the nation for “concentrated poverty.”
“It can be too easy to look away from a problem like this, but when I saw that the children of Lucas County were not having their most basic needs met, I knew I needed to do something,” said Siebeneck, who left a career as an agronomist to found FLCC. Siebeneck’s efforts were recognized regionally in February with the presentation of a Jefferson Award for Public Service, and he was nominated to receive the national Jefferson Award in June.
While in Washington, D.C., FLCC was also recognized by USDA officials as having the potential to serve as a template for future national programs to combat child hunger. “[The USDA] was very interested in studying our food model, specifically. This was not a conference or panel of several like groups; it was just us and them,” Siebeneck said. “We are serving more than double the national average of other food programs and that includes those in cities much larger than Toledo. They are aware of a national child hunger problem and they are researching ways to solve it.”
“Ninety-three percent of every dollar collected goes directly into the program,” said FLCC volunteer Gary Zarembski. “They’re a partner with 70 other organizations and they do everything they’re able to do on private donations. This is a group that gets it right. I hope the public helps them keep feeding kids in this county.”
Siebeneck and his team are now trying to raise $800,000, which will not build the expanded kitchen needed to handle the county’s anticipated needs but will rather build a facility comparable to their Macomber kitchen.
“This isn’t for anything fancy, just functional. This will get us in a new structure and operational again,” Siebeneck said.
Despite the urgency, Siebeneck remains optimistic that FLCC will overcome this obstacle. He cited an already positive public response, including business donations for a double cooking hood and an across-the-board willingness from the majority of Toledo’s print, television and radio outlets to raise awareness of their needs.
“The people of Lucas County are good people; we’re just trying to get their attention and let them know what we’re facing. We have a problem. We also have a solution. We’re asking, one time, for help in implementing this solution.”
For more information or to make a donation, visit www.feedlucaschildren.org or call Siebeneck directly at (419) 260-9265.