“Toledo has a huge issue with food insecurity. About one in six individuals in Ohio are food insecure. This means that they are not sure where their next meal is going to come from; they’re not sure that they are able to afford food.”
According to Jessica Kruger, a doctoral student in Health Education and the chair of the board of director for Food for Thought, this is the problem that she is trying to solve. Kruger continued, that Food for Thought uses their resources to “fill the gaps in nutrition for people in the community.”
“We’re trying to fill it with healthy food,” Kruger said. “What we found is that a lot of our patrons, people who use our food pantry, have chronic diseases, such diabetes, hypertension and heart disease; so it’s important for them to get fresh, healthy food and as you may know, trying to buy healthy food can get very expensive. By providing it free and focusing on the nutritional aspect of this food, it’s helping them live a healthier life.”
Food for Thought was started by a group of people who would make sandwiches and then head to downtown Toledo to feed the homeless. Kruger says their mission then changed to raise funding for a food pantry stationed in Oregon, Ohio. But they decided that a stationary food pantry didn’t fit their needs, as “there are barriers to transportation”, so Food for Thought went mobile.
“We continued to evolve and include more comprehensive services, such as the food boxes to help teach people skills around nutrition,” Kruger said.
The group has three main branches that they use to help the Toledo community, the first of which is sandwich making.
“We do Friday lunch packing for Saturday morning delivery and we do this for the un-homed population in downtown Toledo,” Kruger said. “We go out to the bus stops and hand out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches sacks to the people that are there.”
According to Kruger, what Food for Thought really did was to take the idea of a mobile food pantry and made it into reality.
“We take a 17-foot trailer out into different areas of Toledo,” Kruger said. “We’re partnered with sites such as churches, schools and other community organizations. They advertise our service, we bring the truck in and we shop them through our pantry. It’s a choice pantry. So they walk through the trailer and choose what foods they think they will use in their household. We have about 13 different categories of food, including fresh and healthy food, which is unique to our pantry.”
Recently, the organization started exploring the new avenue of providing food boxes to those in need.
“We are partnered with Mercy and the neighborhood health association to provide everything someone needs to make a meal for a family of four, to pregnant women and also people who have diabetes,” Kruger said. “This is a little bit more comprehensive program. We teach them how to cook, so there’s cooking demonstrations, and they’re also able to try the food.”
Kruger said Food for Thought runs on volunteer power and that each year, students and volunteers give up over 11,000 hours to support their programs.
“In our mobile pantry, we serve about 22,000 individuals per year,” Kruger said. “A lot of folks. In our lunch packing, we pack 250 lunches each week. And then for our food box program, we serve about 75 people a month. Feeding that many people, we need to run on volunteers.”
Emily Ottinger, a fourth-year Recreational Therapy student, has been volunteering with Food for Thought since she was a junior in high school. She said she originally got involved to hang out with her friends more.
“It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I started to help with Saturday morning lunch distribution in downtown Toledo, distributing the lunches I was able to see the impact the work FFT does had on the community and I became more consistently involved,” Ottinger said.
Ottinger continued that her favorite thing about Food for Thought is that it is “more about the thought than the food”.
“The leaders of the organization make an effort to ensure that the focus of the organization is not just on feeding those in need, but using food as a vehicle to show people that they are important, forming relationships, and providing consistency to the community we serve,” Ottinger said.
Being involved with Food for Thought has allowed Ottinger to spread kindness and show people they matter. She said her time volunteering downtown has allowed her to get to know people she would never normally get to know.
“It’s an awesome feeling to know that every Friday and Saturday I can look forward to reconnecting with individuals who I’ve formed friendships with,” Kruger said. “It may sound cheesy, but it doesn’t feel fair for me to call what I do with Food For Thought volunteering, because most days I feel like I benefit from my experiences just as much as the individuals being served.”
Volunteers like Ottinger are people the Food for Thought organization are actively recruiting. Kruger said, internships centered around nutrition, writing grant proposals or just volunteering in general, is what they are hoping to find.
"I think it’s a great opportunity for students to come out and learn about people who are a little bit different than them,” Kruger said. “I think it provides you a fresh perspective on life and it can also assist in your studies, kinda experiential learning, especially if you plan on working with different populations.”