This 18-year-old organization, formerly called Feeding Lucas
County Children, is combating many stereotypes by raising
awareness on childhood hunger, all the while expanding
weekend services to meet the community's growing need amid
our country's Covid-19 crisis.
Connecting Kids to Meals is currently operating out of 17
locations on weekdays and preparing meals ahead of time for
weekend delivery so that families will stay connected.
“Right now our main focus is making sure kids have access. During this
Covid-19 shutdown of schools it is vitally important to us
that kids and their parents know that their children can
ACCESS OUR MEALS AT NO COST and that our partner sites
are strategically located throughout the city with listings
on our website and social media channels.”
Huntley, who has been with Connecting Kids to Meals since
2016, replaced Patrick Howard as president in March 2016.
She is native to Toledo, and attended Nathan Hale, and the
now-closed Ladyfield Elementary School. After graduating
from Notre Dame Academy, Huntley enrolled at Bowling Green
State University where she earned her Bachelor of Arts
After her undergraduate studies, Wendi was encouraged by her
mother, Sylvia Huntley, PhD, former director of Toledo Head
Start and BGSU professor at the time, to pursue furthering
her education. “My parents wanted the best for us and
believed in the value of education. Those were the ‘Be a
lawyer, a doctor, or an engineer days.’ I chose law. It was
the best fit for me,” she recalls.
Huntley went on to earn her law degree from The Ohio State
University College of Law, now known as The Michael E.
Moritz College of Law, in Columbus, Ohio. For the next 12
years she practiced both corporate law and litigation, as
well as sports and entertainment law, with
nationally-recognized Bricker & Eckler, a Columbus-based law
Although Huntley loved practicing law, she is grateful she
made time for a passion project at church while living in
the state’s capital, stating,
“I did non-profit
work in Columbus with the Children's Hunger Alliance and I
loved it. When my dad fell ill and I moved back to Toledo,
I think it was just a natural progression for me to work in
Nearly 40 percent of kids live in poverty here in greater Toledo.
Realizing hunger relief was such a growing problem in NW
Ohio, Huntley shifted gears professionally, working with the
non for profit on a full-time basis.
With Huntley at the helm of Connecting Kids to Meals for the past four
years, the non-profit is now a sponsor of two federal child
nutrition programs, providing just over 540,000 meals to
kids in need in 2019 alone, and is the only weekend food
provider servicing the local area, supplying
take-home weekend bags
filled with nutritious, child-approved foods.
president I make sure we don’t feed kids just anything. We
do taste testing and surveys with our kids and food
vendors. It’s important to us that the meals are not just
healthy, but that they taste good and we know kids like
eating the food we serve,” says Huntley.
The community must remember that a child who is hungry cannot think or
learn. She explains, “It’s easy for people to place blame
when a child is suffering. But there can be a myriad of
circumstances for caregivers and we urge the community to be
compassionate. Direct all your positivity toward helping the
kids in our community not only survive, but to thrive.”
Huntley recommends that the community stay focused on the most important
aspect of this challenge--hunger.
“When we hear remarks like ‘the parents should be feeding these kids,’
our organization understands these types of thoughts simply
stem from a lack of understanding - not disinterest. Much of
our community is the ‘working poor’ making choices between
rent, utilities, childcare, and healthy food is often at the
bottom of the list,” shares Huntley.
Studies show children who are food insecure have more
illnesses. Without the vital nutrients of a balanced diet,
often, these kids also have poor early brain development,
impacting them when they get to school, and leading to poor
Schools are a critical partner in feeding the area’s
children. The Toledo Public School district reported more
than 87 percent of children received free or reduced-cost
lunches by the Ohio Department of Education in the past two
consecutive academic school years.
“When schools are closed, we know kids don’t eat. These are
the times we depend on our partners and you, the community,
to help bridge the gaps and volunteer,” says Huntley.
Volunteers can schedule to visit the organization downtown at the Life
Revitalization Center and help to pack up the meal
components. “It really helps us speed up the process to
serve the over half a million meals we provide every year.
All the information you need on the ways to support us is on
Connecting Kids to Meals has served more than five million
meals to area children in its 18 years of operation and is
the largest provider of hot meals in northwest Ohio during
times when children aren’t in school
The organization established a summer program to ensure
students who rely on free and reduced meals throughout the
academic year have access to nutritious meal options during
their summer break as well.
All of the Summer Meal Partners and meal servicing sites are
designed to educate children about nutrition while providing
supervised activities that encourage kids in need to return
daily. “I love knowing that when parents are working over
the summer, kids can stop by a site (like the public
library), have a free lunch and fun with their friends in a
safe and healthy way,” says Huntley.
Due to her commitment to the growth and development of the children in
our communities, Wendi Huntley will be honored as this
year's 2020 YWCA Milestone Award recipient, for her
outstanding contribution in the area of social service.
And although Huntley is immensely proud of her role at
Connecting Kids to Meals, she graciously attributes her
organization's success to her team, sharing,
“You will never
find a more dedicated, passionate group of folks committed
to the wellbeing of our kids. This award is for all of us.”
The 25th Annual
Milestone Awards will take place at the Seagate Center in
downtown Toledo (TBA). All proceeds from the luncheon will
benefit more than 23,000 women and families who utilize the
social service programs of the YWCA.