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Wendi Huntley: Connecting More and More Kids to Meals

By Linda Nelson
Sojourner’s Truth Reporter

Wendi Huntley, interim CEO of Connecting Kids to Meals, wants to provide the assurance of a next meal to kids and the hope for better opportunities for families through community awareness, a recent name change and the creation of a partnership project with Cherry Street Mission Ministries.

“There are around 30,000 kids in Lucas County who are food insecure,” Huntley says. “What this means is that a lot of kids don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”

The numbers, gathered from health assessment records, public school statistics and other agencies, represent what Huntley describes as a “sad indictment for our community.”

Wendi Huntley

“Food, clothing and shelter are basic needs that kids shouldn’t have to worry about,” Huntley says. “And teachers tell us that when these kids leave school they don’t eat again until they come back the next day.”

But Huntley is determined to improve conditions throughout the community for kids and their families. “Our job is to provide solutions,” she says. “We’re talking about future doctors, lawyers, teachers, homemakers, engineers, mayors and politicians. When we talk about who these children are today we also have to talk about who they are going to be.”

Huntley, who has been with Connecting Kids to Meals since 2006, replaced Patrick Howard as interim CEO in March 2016. She is a Toledo native, and attended Nathan Hale, and the now closed Ladyfield Elementary School. After graduating from Notre Dame Academy, Huntley enrolled at Bowling Green State University to study English education.

She earned a law degree from the former Ohio State University College of Law, which is now The Michael E. Moritz College of Law, in Columbus, Ohio after a push from her mom, Sylvia Huntley, PhD,former director of Toledo Head Start and BGSU professor, and her dad, a retired postal supervisor. “They set high expectations for us, so it was pretty much ‘you can be a doctor or a lawyer,’” she said.

Huntley chose law believing that this career was more aligned with her personality and skillset. “I don’t necessarily like to argue, but I like to talk,” she says.

Huntley was 22 when she joined Bricker and Eckler, a Columbus-based law firm, and there she practiced corporate law, litigation and sports and entertainment law for 12 years.

Huntley says that while in Columbus she also had the opportunity to work with Children’s Hunger Alliance as director of Development overseeing 18 counties.

An illness in her family led her back to Toledo, and eventually to her current position with Connecting Kids to Meals.

“It was a privilege to return,” she says. “But I didn’t want to go to another law firm.” Instead Huntley found people and organizations whose work was similar to the interest of Children’s Hunger Alliance and the purpose of feeding kids.   

As CEO of Connecting Kids to Meals, Huntley’s job now is to develop strategic plans and a direction for the organization, while making sure that her staff of six full-time employees has the essential tools to accomplish objectives.

Part of the organization’s continuing commitment for growth and development is demonstrated in a name change from Feed Lucas County Children to Connecting Kids to Meals, and Huntley says she wants people to not only remember the history, but to also begin to think differently about what this organization has to offer.  

“So many things have changed in the last 15 years,” Huntley says. “Our new name speaks volumes about what we can do and how we can connect with kids and their families. We had to look at the value associated with making that transition. We didn’t take it lightly.”

Other ways of furthering the organization’s evolvement and reach is through partnerships. Connecting Kids to Meals has formed an alliance with Cherry Street Mission Ministries to expand their current kitchen area, located inside of the Life Revitalization Center at 1500 Monroe St., into a larger space. The massive new kitchen, which has a May 1 completion date, will have the capacity to feed more than 1 million children and adults, and address the issue of household hunger.

“This collaboration is important, because Cherry Street Mission Ministries addresses feeding and job training for adults and we provide meals to children,” Huntley said. “We want to position the organization so that we will have maximum impact and effectiveness. A meal is not the answer,” Huntley emphasizes. “Providing a meal is just the beginning of the answer. We have to look at the meal as a way to leverage resources and access the needs of families in order for them to be able to pull themselves out of poverty.”

According to Huntley, Connecting Kids to Meals currently has 152 partner sites that help the organization provide meals for kids. These sites include: all area library branches, and the Boys and Girls Club, along with a variety of churches and other organizations throughout the community and a recent partnership with a site in Bowling Green.

But there are still some challenges such as transportation and ease of access that Huntley and her team continue to face as they move forward. “My biggest frustration is that I know that there are more kids out there who are hungry and we can’t reach them,” she said. “Right now we are only reaching 10,000 of the 30,000 kids that are hungry in Lucas County. All of the partners even together are only reaching the tip of the iceberg.”

She referred to public school statistics as the markers for improvement. “Over 80 percent of Toledo Public School students qualify for free or reduced meals,” Huntley says. “These numbers drop only slightly for Washington Local, which reports that 60 percent of its students meet these qualifications. While Springfield, Sylvania, and Rossford schools and some of the other districts are ticking very close to 50 percent of kids who qualify for these programs.”  

And although Huntley has a huge plan for where she wants Connecting Kids to Meals to go next, she says that she wants the underlying structures of the organization to be solid.

“In two years we have grown from about 80 sites to 104 sites, and our afterschool program has grown from 8 to 28 locations,” Huntley explains. “This is a significant improvement, but it takes time to build a strong foundation. “We have to make sure that our systems and procedures are running in an excellent way so that we can build stronger.”  Huntley says that as they continue to grow, they must also continue to maintain adequate FDA requirements, develop nutritious menus for the kids and strengthen their purchasing power in order to keep costs down.  

Huntley credits the dedication of the people she works with for some of the growth and success that they’ve experienced over the years, but she also welcomes community involvement.  

Come out to support us at one of our fundraising events,” Huntley says. “Join our mailing list. Like us and follow us on social media.” We want to hear from you and get your feedback.” Huntley adds that there are also volunteer opportunities during the summer. We need people to deliver meals, or stuff some envelops. Visit our website, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved.”

“We provide 5000 nutritious meals a day to kids, and we have worked tirelessly to reposition this organization,” she says. “I’m like a heat-seeking missile. If I hear that there are hungry kids out there, we’ve got to figure out how to get meals to them.”

Huntley says she and her staff will continue to move forward in order to create a better life for kids. “In three years I want to be able to access and provide greater solutions in our communities through increased capacity and more sites,” she says.

And she says that she hasn’t overlooked the organization’s strategic position on Monroe St., or the reformation that is underway in downtown Toledo. “We are a part of this new downtown revitalization era. We can’t let the revitalization happen without us. We need to be prepared to play a role.”

For more information about Connecting Kids to Meals contact them at (419)720-1106 or visit their website: http://www.connectingkidstomeals.org/



Copyright © 2017 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 08/16/18 14:12:35 -0700.

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