Toledo is a community of neighbors who are willing to share what they have — be that an hour of free time or 15 heads of fresh lettuce — with their fellow neighbors. But without a hub to organize an exchange, some Toledo residents struggled to find resources while others had a difficult time finding places that would accept what surplus they had to offer.
Concerned with the restrictions food banks and other programs have regarding food donations and pickups, a group of Toledo residents got together about a year ago and collectively determined the town needed a place where people can share food and other resources without restrictions.
“We wanted something that was for everyone and barrier free. And so we sat down and tried to come up with a plan,” said Toledo Neighbors President Amber Buck.
The idea for a central “hub” where groups and individuals can organize resources sat with the group until about three months ago, when they decided to officially make the Toledo Neighbors Program a reality.
In those three months, the five board members filed all the paperwork necessary to establish the organization as an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit, set up a Facebook page, opened a post office box, wrote a grant application and found a physical location to serve as the “hub” of their programs — all with the wholehearted support of the Toledo community.
“I think that everybody saw a need, collectively around the community, but nobody wanted to organize a solution, because it's a job, right? And then when we said, ‘Well, we'll sucker into it, we’ve got nothing better to do,’ And then they're like, ‘Yay!,’” Buck said. “I grew up here, so for me it feels like it's imperative to give back. I have to do it, but I did not expect the support from so many different levels of people in Toledo. It surprises me.”
Toledo Neighbors’ first few donation drives and food pickups have had a high turnout and received a lot of community support. One Toledo resident recently called the Toledo Neighbors asking for help, and within 48 hours of posting a message on the nonprofit's Facebook page, community members had donated numerous items including diapers, toilet paper, groceries and baby formula.
“Everybody put in a little bit here and there and we delivered it to her. It was pretty incredible. Made a difference right away,” Buck said.
Toledo Neighbors plans to start a regular schedule of free food distributions in August where local growers can drop off fresh food and anyone in the community, regardless of their income or access to other resources, can take what they need.
“We never want anybody to feel judged,” said Toledo Neighbors co-Treasurer Heather Garman. “I mean, if you want a carrot, I will give you a carrot, I don't care. If you have 20 carrots at home, I literally do not care — I just want to give you whatever you need at that time.”
People are invited to pick up food for themselves or for someone else, bring something to share with their neighbors, or both.
“Maybe you’re a local gardener and you want to bring your extra tomatoes and go home with some carrots,” Buck said.
In addition to the distribution events, the Toledo Lions Club plans to deliver food on Toledo Neighbors’ behalf.
“We can help people who have transportation issues, who maybe are shut-ins, who maybe have social anxieties or issues with you know, they just can't drive or can’t get here for some reason, or maybe they're a single mom who works weird hours,” Buck said.
The founders’ hope for Toledo Neighbors is for it to become a hub where other organizations that offer community resources, such as the Lions Club, the Toledo Community Foundation and the Toledo School District, can coordinate their efforts.
“We have a lot of resources, but there's nowhere collectively for those resources to be in one place. So that's where we want to make a difference,” Buck said.
Toledo Neighbors has partnered with the Toledo School District to lease part of a district-owned surplus storage building on the corner of Jackson Highway and Rakoz Road which was once the VFW hall. The big blue building needs a significant amount of work — water and electrical lines need to be installed, stacks of furniture and old appliances need to be sorted and cleared out, and much of the interior needs remodeling — but Toledo Neighbors founders hope the location can eventually house a variety of community programs such as fresh food education events.
“There's some other programs that we've sort of looked at, like maybe they bring in a social worker once a month to talk about something, or they bring in an immigration lawyer to talk about something, or resources that are hard to get to when you’re in a community like Toledo. There’s so much to offer here, but it's hard to access,” Buck said.
For now, Toledo Neighbors will focus on getting its food distribution events, also called pick-ups, running on a regular schedule in the outdoor space in front of the Jackson Highway location. The next two pop-up pick-ups are scheduled for July 10 and July 24 from 1 to 4 p.m.
Toledo Neighbors will hold a surplus sale for the Toledo School District from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 16-17 to help clear space and raise funds for the program.
Toledo Neighbors has also scheduled a community meeting at 6:30 p.m. on June 23 at Steamboat Landing for Toledo residents to learn more about the new nonprofit and ways to get involved.
Regular updates and event schedules will be posted to Toledo Neighbors’ Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/toledoneighbors. People interested in learning more about the nonprofit can also email firstname.lastname@example.org.