BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Providing 15 million pounds of food each year to 417 pantries and programs is no easy feat – but thanks to a generous community, the Toledo SeaGate Food Bank is filling bellies, educating minds and warming feet throughout Northwest Ohio.
On November 18, Toledo SeaGate Food Bank’s executive director Mindy Rapp was in Waterville, where Old House owner Aggie Alt hosted a Thirsty Thursday event at the vintage shop to collect food and monetary donations for the nonprofit organization.
“SeaGate is near to my heart,” said Alt as she offered up snacks and wine to guests perusing the antiques and collectibles in her shop.
While donations of food were piled into a copper bin, “Grandma M” arrived with a basket filled with 60 pairs of handknit socks for SeaGate’s Project PJ.
Project PJ collects donations of pajamas, slippers, socks, blankets, pillowcases, stuffed animals, toothbrushes, toothpaste and hygiene items – anything to do with bedtime, Rapp said. Held after Christmas when the temperatures drop and pajamas go on sale, the program provides these bedtime care packages in a pillowcase to SeaGate clients.
“We’re on a mission to alleviate hunger, but usually when people are hungry there are other things they need,” Rapp said. “If people are food-insecure, they have all sorts of other issues. If they’re just hanging on to their house, they don’t have money for food.”
Grandma M found herself stuck at home with some mobility issues and she began looking for a purpose. Two years ago, she taught herself to knit by watching YouTube videos. The first year, she gave her grandchildren socks. This year, she got to work on socks for children in need.
“When I was knitting the socks, I could picture the children,” she said.
On November 19, Toledo SeaGate hosted a Stuff the Truck event at two area Walt Churchill’s Market locations, accepting donations to buy a Thanksgiving dinner for area families. Other fundraiser programs include a Pack a Pickup competition at area high schools during football season.
Started out of a garage in 1977, the Toledo SeaGate Food Bank is located on High Street in Toledo, where an 85,000-square-foot warehouse holds food that is provided free of charge to area pantries and programs.
In addition, SeaGate has programs to help the 17 percent of Northwest Ohioans who are food-insecure, including seniors, veterans and schoolchildren. Educational programs help families learn to stretch a dollar with their cooking or grow and prepare produce from a garden.
When she visits area high schools to talk about food insecurity, Rapp uses herself as an example.
“I ask them, ‘If you see me on the street, do you think I’m an executive director of anything?’” she said, pointing to her colored hair, tattoos and casual clothes. “Usually, they say no. I tell them, that’s why you don’t judge a book by its cover. Some people around you might not have had a meal last night. People think the hungry only live in certain areas of town but there are people even in nice houses that go hungry, and often it’s parents because they don’t want their children to go without.”
Most of SeaGate’s funding comes from corporate friends, organizations and individuals like those who came to Old House or Walt Churchill’s Market last week.
For the pantries receiving food to distribute to hungry families, those supporters are priceless, as SeaGate never charges a dime.
For more information, visit www.SeaGateFoodBank.org.