FOSTORIA - Seventeen years ago, the congregation at First Presbyterian Church in Fostoria began a ministry called Feed My Kids, a summer program to provide free lunches. Volunteers were organized to prepare and serve the food, primarily to students who got free lunches during the school year but might have to do without in the summer.
In 1995, Dave and Lois Zoll started volunteering with Feed My Kids. They have remained active in the program. Dave does most of the financial records and ordering. Lois works with Bev Deerwester to plan and cook the meals and coordinate volunteers. Longtime leader and founder Joanne Sabbagh now is sidelined with health issues.
Lunches are served 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at the church, with assistance from 16 or 17 volunteers.
PHOTO BY MARYANN KROMER
Bev Deerwester (left) and Jane Cooper serve lunch to clients with smiles.
PHOTO BY MARYANN KROMER
Ethan Sendelbach, 13, started volunteering five years ago and continues to help out every day.
"We start the week after school and go until the week before," Lois said. "We have wonderful volunteers."
That includes three students. Oriana Settles, a Fostoria High School student, is a three-year volunteer. Stephanie Young and Ethan Sendelbach are students at Hopewell-Loudon. Sendelbach's mother, Stephanie, is the office manager at the church. When she started bringing Ethan to work with her five years ago, he became a regular volunteer. Lois Zoll said Ethan is
willing to do just about anything needed.
The Rev. Beth Zuehlke said she runs errands or helps out in the kitchen when needed, but that only happens occasionally. She said a number of "invisible" volunteers bake cookies and cakes, bring items to the church or do behind-the-scenes tasks that allow the lunches to take place.
"Some of those people may never show up here at lunch, but they still are part of the helping hands," Zuehlke said.
"We've had all kinds of help from all over town - donations, people," Deerwester said.
Records show about 35 children participated during the first year. Since then, the lunches have grown into a meal program for entire families. Carry-out meals also are available. Although the program kept the Feed My Kids name, people of all ages are welcome to come for the free lunch.
Zuehlke said the program operates on a broad definition of "kids" because everyone is considered "a child of God."
At the end of summer 2013, about 200 adults and children were getting meals at the church. Lois said the average is 160 lunches per day, but two weeks ago, 219 lunches were served, including carry-outs. Zuehlke said the numbers started out higher early this summer, suggesting an overall increase for 2014.
"This definitely is our biggest ministry. For the size congregation we have, this is a challenge. Most of the financial support comes from within our own congregation," she said. "We are blessed by help and volunteers from the outside, but still it is a challenge to keep it going over the summer."
Previous menus are used as a guide for the current year's lunches. Much of the food comes from the Western Ohio Food Bank in Lima. When local produce is in season, farmers bring their surplus to Feed My Kids. Other foods are donated or purchased with cash donations.
The Zolls buy products on sale whenever possible but pay full price if necessary.
"This year, the prices have gone up so much. We try to make everything balanced and nutritious," Lois Zoll said. "We only serve milk and water. No fruit juices ... The milk is $3.69 a gallon, and we use five gallons a day."
"We have lots of people who donate. We spent about $6,000 last year. This year, who knows?" Deerwester said.
United Way of Fostoria has provided a number of grants to benefit Feed My Kids, and Bob Evans hosted a fundraiser this year. Deerwester said a couple of golf outings also are planned to benefit the program.
Cheryl Graves, a retired teacher and member of Fostoria Arts Council, brings craft supplies for children who need something to do while they wait. Two years ago, retired teacher Karen Knauer started a children's library at the church and each child is allowed to take home one book per day. A dentist in Toledo also donates toothbrushes for clients.
"Our church is very mission-oriented," Lois Zoll said. "I wish more people would come just to see, not just the ones who need it, but to see the organization."
Anyone wishing to help with the program should email feedmykidsfostoria
@yahoo.com or call the church at (419) 435-1884.