This year, for the first time, clambakers have the option to donate their meals at checkout. This option both supports the ongoing efforts by us at the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, bringing you phenomenal programming, important events and public advocacy to further the economic environment of the Toledo Region. But that’s not all – your donation also supports Connecting Kids to Meals, a local organization that has been dedicated to feeding hungry children in our community for the last 18 years.
“Our mission is to supply healthy meals at no cost to kids that are 18 and under who are located in low income and underserved areas in our community,” says Wendi Huntley, president of Connecting Kids to Meals. “We fulfill the mission by partnering with schools, after-school programs, libraries, emergency shelters, community shelters – anywhere where kids gather.”
“It is a tremendous opportunity for our name to be alongside the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce for such an important event. … Who doesn’t love to eat? I mean, hello – it’s the Clambake, it’s a perfect, unique opportunity,” says Huntley. “For us to be recognized for our work and the opportunity to share the needs along with how we attempt to bring resolution to that need is important for us in this context, and to be able to partner with the Chamber is an ideal scenario.”
“We wanted to give some support to parents and kids for healthier options. Because people were sheltering at home, especially early on getting out and getting healthy foods wasn’t happening across the area. It wasn’t happening for all of our residents in Lucas County,” Huntley says. “I’m incredibly proud of my staff and so grateful we have so many dedicated people.”
In Lucas County, Huntley says, more than 56,000 children qualify for free or reduced meals, which means that their family lives in some level of poverty. That translates to 85 percent of students in Toledo Public Schools and 60 percent of students in Washington Local Schools. Breaking out the numbers further, that means one out of every four children in Lucas County live in food insecurity.
“Let me put an asterisk on these stats – that’s pre-COVID,” says Huntley. “This has disrupted family finances, caused unemployment, created tremendous amounts of stress and uncertainty, and really just elevated health-related issues and, ultimately, death for some.”
So, how do community members help? Luckily, there are plenty of ways to plug in and support not just Connecting Kids to Meals, but any organization with which you feel connected. And that’s through the United Way of Greater Toledo.
“Go to the United Way and sign up and help us pack our weekend bags – we’re doing that in partnership with the United Way,” says Huntley, “and, quite obviously, the donations from Clambake are great. We need ongoing support in order to continue to do what we’re doing. … We can’t do this work alone.”
Because school is restarting in-person classes soon, Huntley says, she and her team have had to switch into reaction mode. However, the support Connecting Kids to Meals has received from the community can’t be understated.
In the words of the famous Mister Rogers, it’s important during tough times to “look for the helpers.” But Huntley and her team aren’t just looking for the helpers, whether during the pandemic or pre-COVID. They’re doing the helping themselves, and inspiring others to pitch in, too.
“To me that’s what a crisis should do; it should galvanize. It should unify people for whatever greater good needs to be achieved,” says Huntley. “If we bring some relief to any child or family, we’re glad to serve in that role because that’s what it’s all about. Doing your little bit. And it definitely can make a difference.”
Connect with Connecting Kids to Meals
If you’re interested in donating to Connecting Kids to Meals, please visit ConnectingKidstoMeals.org. You can also choose to donate your Clambake 2020 presented by PNC meal in the meal reservation page on ToledoChamber.com. Registration for Clambake closes Oct. 8. Finally, Huntley urges community members to sign up to volunteer, whether for Connecting Kids to Meals or another local organization, by visiting UnitedWayToledo.org.