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Wendi Huntley Continues to Connect the Toledo Area Kids to Meals

By Asia Nail

Sojourner’s Truth Reporter


In our fast-paced world, many seek position and power rather than opportunities for humble service.  Wendi Huntley, president of Connecting Kids to Meals, is a shining example of how leaders can also be servants within their own community.


Connecting Kids To Meals’ mission is simple:  To provide nutritious meals to children at no cost throughout the year.


As president and CEO, Huntley has been changing the culture and building trust within the community at large in Ohio.  “There are around 40,000 children in NW Ohio who are food insecure,” says Wendi. “We serve all around the region because hunger doesn’t discriminate.”


People often make assumptions on who is poor and who is not based on geographic location. Surprisingly, there are school districts that have a significant number of kids that qualify for free or reduced meals, even in the suburbs, meaning all these families, regardless of zip code, live in poverty.


Wendi Huntley

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 degree.


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 firm.


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 this field.”


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.


As 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 academic performance.


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 our website,” shares Huntley.


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.





Copyright © 2019 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 04/03/20 05:48:48 -0400.

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