There's more to Knute Huber's program than the name implies.
From left, Bill Stebelton, Knute Huber, and Javier Sevilla, 16, prepare a take-out meal at Salem Lutheran Church on North Huron. The twice-monthly free pancake breakfast feeds the needy in the neighborhood.
Yes, there are pancakes -- stacks of five-inch diameter flapjacks, Mr. Huber points out, not the skimpy four-inch variety.
But residents of Toledo's gritty Vistula neighborhood who come to Salem Lutheran Church on North Huron Street this morning also will get syrup, a cup of coffee, conversation, and maybe some edible extras.
Depending on what the volunteers in the kitchen bring with them on any given Saturday, the pancake breakfast could include sausage or bacon, juice, dessert, or various other treats.
Two key ingredients for the "Just Pancakes" project, according to Mr. Huber, are lining up volunteers to provide and cook a pancake breakfast and making sure the cooks get out of the kitchen to interact with people.
"I try to stress that it's really important to engage these people in conversation. We may be the only people they talk to all day," Mr. Huber said.
Getting volunteers to take charge of one of the breakfasts helps spread the responsibility -- and the blessing -- around, with no single person or group bearing the weight of running a food program month in and month out.
Mr. Huber learned from experience that volunteers with big hearts and good intentions too often get burned out.
The 58-year-old Oregon resident has played a role in starting a half-dozen soup kitchens and food pantries across northwest Ohio, including the Helping Hands of St. Louis Soup Kitchen in East Toledo, the Good Samaritan Outreach Center in the Old South End, and Caring Kitchen in Fostoria.
The Rev. Howard Abts, interim pastor of Salem Lutheran, said "Just Pancakes" meets two important goals.
"One is obviously for people who would not have an alternative for breakfast on some Saturday mornings. The other is for people who would like to be involved in helping needy people on a face-to-face basis when it's not Thanksgiving eve," he said. "The way Knute has it set up, you can participate in it without getting locked in forever. 'Just Pancakes' is one of those ideas that, after you see it working, it seems so obvious."
Salem has been serving free meals to the Vistula community on Tuesday evenings, with members of different churches helping provide the food and cook and serve the hot meals.
"Just Pancakes" is just getting off the griddle, starting in January by providing free take-out flapjack breakfasts from 8 to 10 a.m. on the second and fourth Saturday of each month. As word spreads, more people have been showing up for the meals and more volunteers have been signing up to serve, Mr. Huber said.
About six volunteers are needed each week to invest about four hours of time and between $35 and $50 to buy the food and supplies.
Mr. Huber and friend Bob Stebelton are on site every week to oversee the program and help the volunteers.
Both Mr. Abts and Mr. Huber believe "Just Pancakes" eventually will progress to a weekly dine-in program.
"There's no telling where it will go," Mr. Abts said.
It might even go on the road, if Mr. Huber gets his way.
He envisions a "Just Pancakes" portable trailer traveling to churches and community events equipped with a grill and decorated to look like a cardboard box as a reminder to all who see it that local homeless people need their help.
Mr. Huber said he likes to make use of his "gift of gab" and his can-do attitude to help others.
"When somebody comes to me and says, 'I wish I could do something,' I find a way to make it happen," he said.
A graduate of St. John's High School, Mr. Huber began attending Salem Lutheran about 15 years ago when his wife, Johanna Crawford, a registered nurse, volunteered to provide medical services to the central-city community.
Mr. Huber is philosophical about his strong desire to help those in need.
"You look at your life and you have two things: You have your obituary that you're writing, and you have your resume. And somewhere in there you become the person you're supposed to be," he said.
For information or to volunteer, call Mr. Huber at 419-693-9082, or go the "Just Pancakes" group on Facebook.com.
Contact David Yonke at: email@example.com or 419-724-6154.
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