Initiative aids local charities fighting hungerWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
Several local groups are partnering to combat one of the biggest issues facing Northwest Ohio — hunger.
Columbia Gas of Ohio, Toledo Free Press, WNWO-TV and Moms on the Go have joined forces for the Free from Hunger initiative. The yearlong initiative supports Food for Thought, Feed Lucas County Children and Cherry Street Mission. Major sponsors include Hollywood Casino Toledo, Wells Fargo Advisors and WSPD.
“It’s a really interesting approach to take a yearlong look at this because to a certain extent, it’s hard to combat something as large as hunger. … How do we start to do that?” said Chris Kozak, communications and community relations manager for Columbia Gas of Ohio. “We’ve picked three good partners who are having a strong impact now and our goal is to help them have an even bigger impact.”
The initiative was partially inspired by startling statistics: More than 85,000 Lucas County residents are “food insecure” and 35 percent of them are children younger than 18. One out of 10 of those children is younger than 5. More than 30,000 children in Lucas County live at or below the poverty line.
“How does Lucas County address issues such as education and economic development if it can’t feed its people?” said Michael S. Miller, editor in chief of Toledo Free Press. Miller, who collaborated with Kozak on the initiative, said, “It’s an overwhelming situation, but there are people devoting their lives to helping alleviate the crisis and we want to bring as much awareness and as many resources as we can to contributing to the solution.”
Each charity will have a season of spotlight during 2013. The initiative seeks corporate sponsors to donate $5,000 each and aims to get those funds matched by the public through events put on by the charities.
All funds are being maintained by the Toledo Community Foundation. Food for Thought is the first spotlight charity, followed by Feed Lucas County Children (FLCC) and Cherry Street Mission.
Kozak said, “It’s really gotta be a team effort and I’ll steal a quote from Bruce Springsteen: ‘Nobody wins unless everybody wins.’”
Food for Thought
The first initiative event is 7 p.m. March 23 at Forrester’s on the River. “Bachelor” Bob Guiney is set to perform along with Scott Grimes. Tickets are $40 to benefit Food for Thought. A second event where local restaurants will show off their take on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches is set for May 23. More details on that event, which will feature wine/beer pairings, is forthcoming.
Sam Melden, executive director of Food for Thought, said, “One of the things about the Free from Hunger campaign is I think it really represents the next wave of raising money and community support. It really represents organizations with influence teaming up to say, ‘Let’s focus on this issue.’”
Food for Thought, which started in 2007, runs its stationary food pantry at 3540 Seaman Road, Oregon. It also has a mobile unit that it takes into its three-county wide community.
“We have about 12 food pantries a month — everything from rural and more urban churches to family centers,” Melden said.
He stressed the importance of partnerships to Food for Thought.
“It’s definitely not like an ice cream truck where it just pulls into a neighborhood and pulls out,” he said. “Really what we want to do is we partner with other organizations and we kind of become their food pantry.”
“The idea with that is we aren’t going to assume we can be more engaged with somebody’s community than they already are and that’s served us well.”
The charity also emphasizes serving food with thoughtfulness — meaning eye contact counts as much, if not more, than full stomachs, Melden said. This means a simplified check-in process for patrons and letting them shop more than once a month.
It also means creative spins on projects like Art for Thought, where professional and amateur artists alike can decorate lunch bags. That program is run out of The Art Supply Depo in Downtown.
Art for Thought is mainly meant for school art classes and afterschool programs. However, Melden said, “Everyone from kids the youngest age that can pick up a crayon to the most incredible artist in the city can take a bag and decorate it.”
Food for Thought is also currently working with the Northwest Ohio Food Council to help provide healthier options to food pantry patrons. This means community gardens, cooking classes and themed recipes based on the pantry’s inventory.
Melden said that an increase in funds could mean expanding the types of food offered at pantries and maybe taking a potential partner organization off the waiting list. He also said that more volunteers are always needed. To sign up, visit http://feedtoledo.org.
FLCC and Cherry Street
Tony Siebeneck, executive director of FLCC, and Dan Rogers, president of Cherry Street Mission, both said that the awareness that the Free from Hunger initiative could bring to the issue is especially crucial.
Siebeneck said, “This hunger awareness project to me, it’s a godsend.”
FLCC, which prepares meals in its kitchen and then serves them throughout the community to hungry children, started in 2002. Last summer, it served its millionth summer meal.
The summer meal program is receiving accolades, Siebeneck said.
“We’re receiving a lot of calls from in-state and out-of-state organizations that are wanting to learn more about our successful food model. … That’s keeping us kind of busy,” he said, adding that his nonprofit is also gearing up for summer.
Rogers said of the campaign, “No question about it. What this does for Cherry Street is keep it in the forefront of our community.”
Cherry Street has provided food, shelter and other goods to the needy since 1947.
Rogers stressed that food is a stabilizing force in people’s lives.
“Hunger is distracting. Anything that’s distracting stands between us and where we want to be,” he said.
Rogers is aiming to purchase 100 chickens to provide Cherry Street with more eggs and also to vastly increase its two urban gardens’ produce.
Like Rogers and Siebeneck, Kozak said that awareness is a big part of the initiative.
“Awareness is the first step to [helping]; finding out what the need is; finding out it’s not something happening in a different state, in a different country; finding out there’s people in Toledo just down the street that are hungry that your kids may go to school with,” Kozak said.
Moms on the Go
Moms on the Go — Lisa Harst, Allie Darr and Molly Pearson — film a weekly family segment for WNWO-TV. The group has helped several charities since its inception last year.
“Basically every month we were picking a new charity and decided our efforts would be better spent,” Pearson said, adding that the statistics and facts they learned about hunger made the decision to get onboard obvious.
“It kind of pulls at your heartstrings and being moms ourselves, the thought of not being able to feed your children three meals a day or even one is heart wrenching.”
“Personally, I’m a mom of three little boys and the thought of me not being able to feed them is very emotional for me,” she said.
Pearson said even if you can’t come to a specific event, donations to the charities are still encouraged.
Chris Topf, president of WNWO-TV, said that the station always looks for ways to make the community a better place.
“I want everybody to take this seriously and get involved. For the amount of money you might spend for going out to lunch, you can feed a family for a good long time,” he said.
For more information, search for “Free from Hunger” on Facebook.
‘Bachelor’ concert benefits Food for Thought
By Michelle Zepeda
It’s a chance to rub elbows with celebrities and enjoy an intimate concert, all while raising money for an important Lucas County charity.
On March 23, Bob Guiney, one of the most popular bachelors from the ABC show “The Bachelor,” and Scott Grimes, an actor from NBC’s “ER,” will take the stage in Toledo. The concert benefits Food for Thought, a social justice organization dedicated to feeding the hungry with a mobile food program.
“We are really hopeful people will come out,” Guiney said. “They are trying to raise as much money as they can for Food for Thought and hopefully people will see the value of that and come and hang out with us.”
Guiney and Grimes teamed up about a year ago. They tour together and play a many charity shows.
“We are doing it for causes that we believe in and causes that we think the money is really going to go to a really good place,” Guiney said. “Plus, it’s an advantage because he is my best buddy and we get to hang out and play music together and all the while we are doing something good for someone else.”
Guiney and Grimes met after playing in Band From TV, a group of actors that has a passion for music and charity. They tour together and all the money raised at their shows goes to the actors’ favorite charities.
“It’s been the most rewarding thing because we do it all for charity,” Guiney said. “We have raised $3 million for charity during the past seven years.”
But with so many actors’ conflicting schedules, it’s hard to tour often, so Guiney and Grimes started their own band.
“What actually ended up happening is Bob and I were itching all the time to keep performing,” Grimes said. “So we said, ‘While we are on break, let’s do a very scaled down version of Band From TV,’ which ended up being something more original than Band From TV, because we don’t just do cover songs. We do our own stuff.”
Guiney added, “We were itching to play more and were anxious to put our creative minds together more and write some more real songs. Because Band From TV is more about playing cover songs, and we love that, but we both had the desire to get up there and play our own stuff too.”
Guiney’s TV career began when he was an eligible bachelor not chosen by Trista Rehn (Sutter) on the 2003 season of “The Bachelorette,” before taking the lead on “The Bachelor.” He has hosted several TV shows, including HGTV’s “Showhouse Showdown,” as well as contributing to “Today.”
“My whole life, before I was on ‘The Bachelor’ or anything, I signed a record deal and I was a musician,” Guiney said. “I played Toledo several times. I was in a band called Fat Amy, which we started back in 1991 and started touring with bands like The Verve Pipe, Matchbox Twenty and The Smoking Popes.”
Grimes was also a songwriter and solo artist before his acting career took off in movies like “Robin Hood” and TV shows such as “Party of Five,” “Band of Brothers,” “ER” and his voice work on “American Dad” and “Family Guy.” Both have a collection of original work they play at their concerts.
“We play our own original music that we played before we met,” Grimes said. “But we’ve noticed that accidentally we’ve changed our own stuff to combine what he loves and I love. The music that I’ve written before I met Bob is kind of changing as we sing together and has changed into the music that him and I sing together.”
Both men said the show will have people dancing to the music.
“We are a couple of guys with guitars who bang out a bunch of fun songs,” Guiney said. “There are a bunch of songs you will recognize, there are some songs you might recognize from back in the day that got a lot of radio play like my song ‘Girlfriend’ and Scott’s song ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ We like to mix songs that we like to play and the crowd likes and keep things moving and have some fun with it.”
Grimes added, “There is no pretentiousness about it; it’s nothing but fun. People are welcome onstage anytime. It’s a good old-fashioned pub show even if we are playing at a giant place. It’s really intimate and anything goes.”
The event is part of Free From Hunger 2013, a yearlong initiative spearheaded by Columbia Gas of Ohio, Toledo Free Press, WNWO-TV and Moms on the Go and supported by Hollywood Casino Toledo, Wells Fargo Advisors and WSPD. All the money raised at the Guiney and Grimes concert will benefit Food for Thought, a social justice organization dedicated to feeding the hungry with a mobile food program. The concert will be at 7 p.m. March 23 at Forrester’s on the River in The Docks. Tickets are available online at http://store.feedtoledo.org and are $40 each.
“What we are doing for Food for Thought and Moms in Heels and these events in Toledo is awesome because instead of just sending a check from a show from a thousand miles away and hoping it helps, we are actually raising awareness,” Guiney said.
In addition to raising awareness, this concert is a homecoming for Guiney. He is a Detroit native who worked in Toledo years ago, for a phone book company.
“I love Toledo. There were some great restaurants and I even worked in Bowling Green for a while,” Guiney said. “We are very excited. I’m excited to introduce Scott to some people in the Midwest. We will give them a great show and shake hands and meet people and have a lot of fun.”
Tags: Allie Darr, Bachelor, Bob Guiney, Bruce Springsteen, Cherry Street Mission, Chris Kozak, Chris Topf, Columbia Gas of Ohio, Dan Rogers, Feed Lucas County Children, Food for Thought, Forrester’s on the River, Free From Hunger, Hollywood Casino Toledo, Lisa Harst, Michael S. Miller, Molly Pearson, Moms on the Go, Sam Melden, Scott Grimes, Toledo Community Foundation, Toledo Free Press, Tony Siebeneck, Wells Fargo Advisors, WNWO-TV, WSPD