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East Toledo soup kitchen staff hoping fund-raiser will help refill pantry

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Terry and Kathryn Rathbun, serving lunch at the community center, say the all-volunteer soup kitchen is struggling as donations dwindle. The center serves hot meals three days a week.

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In her 10 years with the soup kitchen known as Jamie Farr Park Community Center, Kathryn Rathbun never has had to turn a hungry person away.

Now, a global food shortage and an economic downturn seem to be conspiring to tempt fate.

Throughout the life of the all-volunteer operation, the Jamie Farr Park Community Center has offered a hot meal three times each week, with special fare on Christmas and Thanksgiving.

The group also provides emergency boxes full of foodstuffs and commodities for hungry individuals and families. And volunteers always keep a box of doughnuts and a pot of hot coffee available for whomever might drop in, Mrs. Rathbun said.

But as food prices escalate and job opportunities recede, those emergency boxes keep getting leaner, Mrs. Rathbun said. At the same time, demand for the organization's services has intensified, she said.

Jerry and Sheryl Fultz have relied on the soup kitchen on and off for years. But the assistance they receive has become more vital since Mrs. Fultz got laid off from her job at Burger King.

Mr. Fultz, a former Marine who served in the Gulf War, still works at the fast-food restaurant. But his income often isn't quite enough to provide for his two stepchildren.

"They have helped me out so much over the years with food and clothing," said Mr. Fultz, 33. "These people are like family."

The community center served almost 9,000 meals to 5,500 adults and children during 2007. Its food boxes provided three meals for three days to 277 families.

Mrs. Rathbun manages the administrative side of the center, while her husband, Terry, serves as cook. A small group of corporate donors cover an insurance policy, the group's only overhead expense.

Through the years, the center has relied entirely on the generosity of the community for supplies. Lately, donations just haven't been enough, Mrs. Rathbun said.

"We just keep struggling along," she said. "We're trying to keep it going."

If financial conditions don't improve, the Jamie Farr Park Community Center may have to close its doors, Mrs. Rathbun said.

In an effort to save the center, volunteers will host a garage sale on May 3 that's aimed at refilling the pantries.

The event will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the park, 2140 North Summit St.

To contribute, or for more information, call 419-936-2707.

Contact Angie Schmitt at:

aschmitt@theblade.com

or 419-724-6104.

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