Two hundred and fifty miles.
That’s how far four young, southern Ohio men plan to kick a soccer ball by June 15 to help raise money for LifeLine Toledo, an unconventional ministry on wheels that has been providing food and other humanitarian services to the city’s needy the past seven years — including free medical checkups and health supplies since 2009.
The foursome planned to leave Monday night from Monroe, Ohio, where three of them grew up.
Each planned to carry backpacks with 30 to 50 pounds of gear, including sleeping bags and other camping supplies, bottled water, clothes, and food.
Except for a night or two in churches offering them free bedding and showers, as well as a couple of nights in motels, the plan is to rough it the majority of those 25 days — weather permitting — and camp along the way as they take turns kicking the soccer ball to Toledo.
Isaac Beal, Jake Essig, Derek Garde, and Nick Streibick together formed an initiative they call Dribble4Toledo.
They raised at least $7,000 of their $10,000 goal before starting out, largely a result of videos, photographs, and stories they posted on social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter in which they solicited donations, sold T-shirts and notepads, and advertised a benefit concert.
The idea came from Mr. Beal, 22, of Greenfield, Ind., near Indianapolis, and Mr. Essig, 21, of Monroe. Both are Huntington University soccer players who spent several days in Toledo last August when their team had a preseason training camp here.
Huntington is a Christian-based university, affiliated with the Church of the United Brethren in Christ.
Students there are encouraged to participate in community service activities as part of their education.
Mr. Beal, who graduated Saturday, and Mr. Essig, who enters his senior year in the fall, had heard of the Rev. Steve North — LifeLine’s founder — through a friend.
Originally, their plan was to donate portions of their five-day visit helping Mr. North and his wife, Lyn, remodel their home in Oregon, which was heavily damaged by fire in 2011.
But Mr. North called an audible. After the two arrived in Toledo for their soccer camp, he suggested they spend at least part of their time in an “immersion,” an intensive look at Toledo’s homeless and other clients that LifeLine serves, rather than focus exclusively on his home.
The two agreed. What they saw changed them.
“I could really see the passion Steve had for those people,” Mr. Beal said.
Added Mr. Essig: “Something just didn’t sit well with us.”
The pair went back to Huntington and enlisted the help of Mr. Garde and Mr. Streibick, two of Mr. Essig’s friends and soccer buddies who grew up with him in Monroe.
Now, the foursome are on an unorthodox campaign to raise money for LifeLine, kicking a soccer ball 250 miles.
“It’s exciting. It’s nerve-wracking at times, but exciting,” Mr. Beal said. “All of us believe that God called us to love God and love others. When we were in Toledo, we saw the need instantly.”
Mr. Essig said they’re “trying to use what’s God-given to us and hopefully help out people in Toledo.”
Soccer is what brought him and Mr. Beal to Toledo.
Dribble4Toledo may seem a little bit of an odd fund-raiser to others. But not to them.
“From a Biblical perspective, we’re called to go into the world and maybe feel uncomfortable at times,” Mr. Essig said. “We need more people to live out what they want to see changed.”
Mr. Essig also said they live by the belief that a little kindness can be contagious. He held open the possibility of raising money for homeless in the Cincinnati-Dayton area someday.
“Toledo has our hearts right now,” he said.
Mr. North, associate pastor at New Harvest Christian Church, said he is touched by their gesture, which he said received planning and moral support from Huntington officials.
He said he had no idea what Mr. Beal and Mr. Essig had in mind when they approached him with the idea last November.
“I was flabbergasted they had gone to the effort they did and the detail of the logistics. It wasn’t just a whim. They really worked it out,” Mr. North said.
“I said, ‘How in the world could I say no to that?’ ”
Mr. North was among about a dozen Toledo-area volunteers who boarded the LifeLine Toledo bus Monday for an hour-long event in Middletown, Ohio.
The event was described as — well — a kickoff party for the northbound soccer players.
Bryce Roberts, 25, of West Toledo, who joined Mr. North and his wife on their trip to the send-off party, said he can relate to the foursome’s spirit of volunteerism.
“It’s like compassion touches your heart and can’t just sit in there,” said Mr. Roberts, director of the Servant Leadership Center in West Toledo.
Also joining the local contingent was Gary Bond, a writer for Toledo Streets newspaper who has been homeless at various times in his life.
Mr. Bond said it’s hard not to be impressed by LifeLine Toledo when you see it in action. He said he believes it helped one homeless man he knows detect cancer in its early stages and survive.
“I know people personally whose lives have been changed,” Mr. Bond said. “It’s magic on wheels.”
Contact Tom Henry at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6079.