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Published: Monday, 12/24/2012

Large E. Toledo family to play host to the needy

300 expected to be served meals at food pantry

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Christmas will be a little more joyful this year because of an extended East Toledo family.

Bob and Barb Thomas, along with their 12 children, 36 grandchildren, and a smattering of great-grandchildren, nephews, and nieces, will cook and serve a holiday dinner at Helping Hands of St. Louis.

The Thomas clan will be preparing pork chops and side dishes in the kitchen to feed upward of 300 people who will visit the East Toledo food pantry dining hall from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday. They’re also preparing sack lunches to provide meals for the day after as well.

Joe Thomas, a son of the couple, said he and his brother Ken, a firefighter in Findlay, decided to sponsor the holiday dinner as a way to provide something for the East Toledo neighborhood where they grew up.

“We wanted to come up with some way to give back,” said Joe, a Findlay resident who is a registered nurse at Toledo Hospital and Blanchard Valley Health System in Findlay.

Barb Thomas’ brother Marvin Traver and his family of four, who live on the same block as Mr. Traver’s sister and brother-in-law on Idaho Street, are part of the holiday dinner brigade.

“All of us have been successful, and we try to instill in our children that we are very, very blessed,” Joe Thomas said.

Ken Thomas is the primary organizer of the dinner, making sure that the meal is cooked and served efficiently. Joe organized a fund-raiser to collect money for food baskets.

Other family members are making the lunches, which are prepared elsewhere because space is limited at St. Louis, Joe said.

“It gives the grandchildren and nieces and nephews something to do as well,” he said.

Paul Cook, director of the meal outreach program, said the family members started the tradition three years ago as a way of showing their appreciation for all the community has given them.

“They are all professional people who are trying to give back,” Mr. Cook said.

Last year about 25 family members took part.

“They try to get the younger ones involved. ... The ones who don’t know what it is like on the other side of the tracks,” he said.

The community dinner is among nearly a half dozen that will be available in the Toledo area to the homeless or hungry from today through Thursday.

Helping Hands was started 31 years ago by the late Rev. Robert Armstrong, a former pastor of the Catholic church. He died in 1990.

The annual free holiday meals, usually held after Christmas, began in 2000. Mr. Cook said everyone who sits down for dinner will be given a packed lunch to take with them.

Helping Hands also will sponsor a second dinner from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday.

Former Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, his family, as well as friends of the Finkbeiners will begin working in the kitchen Thursday afternoon to have a feast of spaghetti and meatballs for pantry-goers.

This will be the second year that the Finkbeiner group will handle a holiday dinner for the outreach program. Mr. Finkbeiner credits Father Armstrong and other homeless advocates for his education on just how bad it can be for the city’s down-and-out.

He said he learned about the outreach program during the 1980s when he was a city councilman. Through Father Armstrong, he realized the extent of the homelessness problem in Toledo.

“Bob was a very good friend,” Mr. Finkbeiner said. “He educated me about the degree of hunger and homelessness in the city and how under-reported the number of homeless were back then.”

Organizations sponsoring Christmas dinners, according to a list compiled by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Toledo, include:

● St. Paul's Community Center, 230 13th St., today, noon to 1:30 p.m.

● Toledo Gospel Rescue Mission, 1917 Jefferson Ave., 4 p.m. today; 7:30 to 9 a.m. for breakfast and 4 p.m. dinner Tuesday.

● Cherry Street Mission Community Center, 1919 Madison Ave., 8 to 8:30 a.m. breakfast; noon to 1 p.m. lunch; 5 to 6 p.m. dinner Tuesday.

● Toledo Gospel Rescue Mission Outreach Center, 670 Phillips Ave., 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday.

● Helping Hands of St. Louis, 443 Sixth St., Wednesday and Thursday, 5 to 7 p.m.

Staff writer Jim Sielicki contributed to this report.



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