Newsmakers 2013: Food for Thought’s leader uses creativity to engageWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
Food for Thought, a local nonprofit serving the area’s food insecure, increased its presence in several ways during 2013, said Chief Thought Officer Sam Melden.
“The name recognition is increasing. There are more people approaching Food for Thought wanting to get involved,” he said.
Food for Thought, which started in 2007, runs its stationary food pantry at 3540 Seaman Road in Oregon and takes its mobile unit all over its service area. During 2013, Food for Thought expanded its mobile service locations from 10 sites to 18 and Melden expects more locations to be added in the next couple of months.
The charity emphasizes thoughtfulness and building relationships with its patrons — meaning eye contact counts as much, if not more, than full stomachs, said Melden, a Lake High School graduate.
Melden, who began working at Food for Thought about two and a half years ago, helped organize several fundraisers for the nonprofit in 2013, including Jam City and Food Fight 419.
In May, 11 local restaurants presented creative dishes using elements of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for the Jam City fundraiser. The event coincided with Food for Thought’s sixth anniversary and was attended by more than 300 people.
“It was a huge success,” Melden said, adding that the 2014 Jam City is set for May 22.
On Sept. 24, about 20 local restaurants donated 5 percent of their one-day sales to Food for Thought as part of the Food Fight 419 event. The next Food Fight 419 event is slated for September, which is National Hunger Awareness Month.
Together, both events raised about $10,000 for Food for Thought, Melden said.
Melden also helped Food for Thought form new partnerships in 2013, including local T-shirt company Glass Wear and local coffee roastery Actual Coffee, and he anticipates forging more unions in the future.
In 2013, Food for Thought also hosted the first “reverse booth” at the Toledo Farmers’ Market, Melden said. Shoppers can donate items purchased from local farmers or their own money at the booth at the Toledo Farmers’ Market at 525 Market St., open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays.
“Sam’s group does such a good job. We get thousands of people every Saturday so it’s a really great place to meet a broad spectrum of people. Maybe people who could qualify for the food pantry and didn’t know it was in the area. Or people who are excited to give their time or a little of their hard-earned money to people in need,” said Liz Bergman, who manages the Westgate Farmers’ Market.
In addition to Food for Thought’s now annual events, Melden said he plans to push a citywide initiative in March to remind people that hunger is a year-round issue.
“We’ll continue to push the envelope when it comes to being creative in how to serve people and how to engage the community in fighting food insecurity,” he said.
Melden also said he plans to focus on health initiatives in 2014, by working with gardeners, nutritionists and other professionals to examine barriers to healthy eating.
“It can be anything from [lacking] knowledge to not having a proper working stove,” he said.