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Published: Tuesday, 5/6/2014

COMMENTARY

Helping the Hungry

Lots of need and many trying to help.

BY MARY BILYEU
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

As I’ve been learning about Toledo, I’ve also been learning about a variety of organizations that feed those who are hungry. Sadly, there is a lot of need here. Fortunately, many are trying to help.

Food for Thought tries to consider food and also issues related to it. In talking with Sam Melden, the organization’s Chief Thought Officer, I found out that he and others who work with the program try to do more than merely hand over a box of essential non-perishable items to a family; they try to find out where the “gaps” are in the system and then try to fill those gaps. It doesn’t do much good to provide a box of macaroni and cheese if there is no assurance that someone will have the milk or butter or cookware or even electricity required to prepare it. The sodium and fat contents of such an item are high, too; is this, then, the best type of product to offer? If fresh vegetables are donated, is there a way to deliver them before they spoil? If there is an impediment to feeding people, Food for Thought is hoping to consider the situation and find a way to address it.

Food for Thought has a main food pantry in Oregon, and also brings a mobile pantry to 17 different area locations each month. Every Saturday morning, it hosts a picnic across from the Main Library at Michigan and Adams; volunteers meet on Fridays to prepare sandwiches for the next day’s gathering. (I had an opportunity to help with this last week, as I was invited to observe Fifth Third Bank’s service day efforts and couldn’t imagine watching without working.) Join me at Food for Thought’s annual fundraiser, Jam City, an opportunity for area chefs to showcase their personal interpretations of the classic peanut butter and jelly combination. It’s coming up on May 22, and tickets are still available for $30 per person by going to feedtoledo.org/jamcity.

Mobile Meals’ own motto -- “Delivering Meals ... Fostering Independence” -- states its mission. With each lunch that’s provided to a person who’s home-bound or otherwise unable to prepare meals, someone is able to stay in his or her home, able to stay out of a nursing home or adult foster care.The program is cost-efficient in the grand scheme of things; but more importantly, it’s an investment in dignity and even friendship. Volunteers get to know those who receive the meals, providing a caring and watchful eye to make sure that those they visit are alright. (If there are any concerns, a Mobile Meals staff member follows up.)

In many cases, the sociability is just as important as the nutrition; a volunteer can provide the only human interaction some recipients have in a given day. I’ve seen the fun aspects of the organization, as I was one of the judges at this year’s Chili Cook-Off fundraiser. I’ve also had the opportunity to deliver meals, as part of Media Day, and to see an array of dedicated volunteers filling containers and bags for clients (even taking note of special diets and making necessary accommodations).

There were so very many containers, so very many bags. In addition to the daily lunches there were also Weekender bags, to be distributed on Fridays to children who qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches at school. (Several schools are on the waiting list, so all who need the bags don’t have access to them.) These contain nutritious snacks and supplemental food to prevent students from coming to school on Monday mornings too hungry to concentrate or to learn. Mobile Meals’ lunch and snack bags deliver food and much more to those who receive them.

There are many, many other organizations trying to combat the issue of hunger beyond these two, some of which I haven’t yet had a chance to visit. Each story deserves to be told, each effort deserves to be recognized. There is tremendous creativity in the food programs here in Toledo. Now, if we could simply lessen or eradicate the need for them ....

Contact Mary Bilyeu at 
mbilyeu@theblade.com
 or 419-724-6155 or on Twitter @foodfloozie.



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