Food for Thought, a local nonprofit group that works to increase access to food for the hungry, has introduced what is believed to be the area's first mobile food pantry.
It is ideal for senior citizens who can't drive, people in need with no cars, or others with limited transportation access, said Michelle Marks, the group's assistant director.
"It's a wonderful, wonderful concept to get food into [areas of unmet need]," said Deb Vas, executive director of the Toledo Seagate Food Bank.
It's also part of a push among area social service groups to deliver more services directly to people and neighborhoods needing assistance.
The food-mobile hit the streets in late November, and organizers are still trying to work out the best route, said Don Schiewer, executive director of Food for Thought.
"This is the first time I've seen something like this," said James Cranon of West Toledo, who received two shopping bags full of items such as ham, fruit, and cereal at an event on Wednesday. "It's nice. They need to have a whole lot more of these, the way the economy is going."
The custom-built 17-foot trailer is handicapped-accessible and carries the same type of food a stationary pantry would.
"There's a lot of areas within the community that have a need for a food pantry but have no pantry available," Mr. Schiewer explained.
Mr. Schiewer, who also works as a pastor at New Harvest Christian Church in Oregon, said the stationary food pantry he runs faces two unique challenges. Low-income families in nearby East Toledo have difficulty reaching it because TARTA buses do not go to Oregon. And people in Oregon's more rural areas who don't have cars are too far away to walk to the pantry. Thus - the need for a pantry on wheels.
The Mildred Bayer Clinic for the Homeless has teamed up with several other agencies to bring doctors and medication to various homeless shelters on weekends. The endeavor is known as Project Black Bag.
Other area social service agencies are expanding to offer mobile services and better reach those in need.
The mobile unit also can help serve as a sort of "scout vehicle" in locations where permanent pantries are needed, said the Rev. Steve Anthony, executive director of Toledo Area Ministries, which provided some of the food in the mobile unit.
Taking services directly to people is better than asking them to come to you, said Robert Heizelman, who volunteers once a month with Project Black Bag.
"[Homeless] people have very limited means of transportation - their transportation is their feet," Dr. Heizelman said.
"It's important to go out. We have the ability to be ambulatory. It makes much more sense for a small group of individuals [doctors] to go to a large group of individuals [the homeless]."
Volunteer doctors and medical students see patients and can prescribe medication, which is then filled and delivered to the shelter using a grant from Mercy Health Partners. Patients are encouraged to get follow-up treatment at Mildred Bayer on Jefferson Avenue.
The project stems from a January meeting with more than 100 homeless people, during which the homeless cited a lack of consistent access to medical care as one of their biggest problems, said Ken Leslie, a homeless advocate.
For a comprehensive approach, Tina Skeldon Wozniak, the president of the Lucas County commissioners, worked with United Way of Greater Toledo, Food for Thought, and the Neighborhood Health Association to establish the CARE (Community Asset & Resource Engagement) Team.
The goal of the program is to serve different neighborhoods each month. "This isn't just a Christmas problem. This isn't just a December problem," Ms. Wozniak said, speaking at an event recently in South Toledo.
Aside from Food For Thought's mobile food pantry, the program is offering free smoke detectors, supplied by the Toledo Fire Department, and free blood pressure tests through the Neighborhood Health Association.
Other groups involved in the program include the Lucas County Block Watch and 1Matters as well as the Lucas County Department of Job and Family Services and The Source. "Most of the time, people have to go to the service, but we're going to be neighborhood-based and grass roots," Ms. Wozniak said.
Mr. Schiewer said his organization is hoping to introduce more mobile units soon, and plans to try to sell advertising space on the sides of the vehicles to underwrite the cost of running them.
"I want to continue to think outside the box," he said.
Staff writer Alex M. Parker contributed to this report.
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