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LIFT the TriState Application

Mediaon June 20th, 2017Comments Off on LIFT the TriState Application

Complete this application accurately. The information provided here will be used by LIFT the TriState staff to better understand each potential trainee's situation and needs. All information will remain confidential. Applications must include all documents (Police Report, Photo ID) and be properly filled out and completed.





Email Address:

Phone Number:

Current Address:





Of Spanish/Hispanic/Latino Origin?

Are you a U.S. citizen?


Specify current housing status:
OwnRentStaying with friend/familyTransitional shelterHomelessOther

If in homeless or transitional shelter, please specify where:

Current relationship status:
SingleMarriedDivorcedDomestic Partnership

Are you the head of your household?

How many children:

Ages of children:

If yes, how do you plan to maintain stable childcare during the program?


All instruction and testing for this program is conducted in English. Are you able to read, write and communicate in English proficiently?

Are you able to regularly perform required warehouse duties as assigned for a 8 hour day? Including but not limited to:
  • Standing for long periods of time
  • Ability to bend and lift a minimum of 50lbs


This program is 12 weeks long and requires attendance from 9:00AM- 3:00PM, Monday through Friday. Are you able to adhere to this schedule for the duration of the program?

If no, please explain:

Can you remain drug free and sober for the length of the 12 week training program?

Are you currently low-income?

Are you currently unemployed?


How did you hear about the LIFT the TriState program?
CraigslistGateway CollegeCustomer Connection Center, Freestore FoodbankFacebookFriend/FamilyLife Learning CenterBelflexJob FairOther


Please write a brief paragraph explaining why you are interested in this program:


Highest level of educational achievement:

Other Special Training or Certifications:

Do you have any prior warehouse experience (e.g. employment, volunteer) or education?



Relationship to you:

Phone Number:

(Please provide complete information on your last three jobs, starting with the most recent. Note: Warehouse experience is not a requirement for admission into the LIFT the TriState program).

Employer (Company Name):

Name of Supervisor:

Supervisor's Phone#:

Job Title:


Start Date:

End Date:

Reason for Leaving:


Employer (Company Name):

Name of Supervisor:

Supervisor's Phone#:

Job Title:


Start Date:

End Date:

Reason for Leaving:


Employer (Company Name):

Name of Supervisor:

Supervisor's Phone#:

Job Title:


Start Date:

End Date:

Reason for Leaving:


Do you have a Case Worker/ Case Manger?





Do you currently have a source of income?

Please select the source(s) of income you currently receive:
EmploymentFamily SupportUnemploymentSocial SecuritySocial Security DisabilityOtherNone

Other (Please explain):

Are you currently receiving any of the following benefits or services?
Food StampsMedicaid/AHCCCSCash AssistanceSSIUnemployment BenefitsOtherNone

Other (Please explain):

If yes, how long have you been receiving these benefits?

Please specify the amount you receive:

The staff at Freestore Foodbank wants to help all those who are enrolled in the program become as healthy, independent, and self-sufficient as they can be. In order to help you achieve your goals, both personal and professional, we would like to better understand what areas we could help you with while enrolled in our program. Please select any service(s) that we can help you with:

Medical CareMental HealthSubstance Abuse TreatmentClothingDentalHealthDomestic Violence ServicesHousing/Utility ServicesFood Programs


Do you currently have a Primary Care Provider (i.e. doctor)?

If yes, please indicate your doctor's name and phone number:

Do you have any regular ongoing medical or behavioral health appointments?

If yes, please explain:

Do you have any medical conditions, disabilities, or impairments that make certain work or physical activities difficult for you?

If yes, please explain:

Are you currently taking any prescription medication?

If yes, please list the names and schedule taken:

Do you have any side effects, such as drowsiness, impaired motor skills, or impaired judgment when taking these medications?

Are you currently or have ever been in any type of drug or alcohol rehabilitation program?

Have you been diagnosed with Hepatitis A?

Have you been diagnosed with Norovirus A?


Do you have a probation or parole officer?

If yes, please indicate their name and phone#:

Do you have any court cases or legal issues pending?

If yes, please describe and provide date:

Please list criminal convictions below:
(Include description of conviction, felony or misdemeanor, date, county or location. List all convictions.)


Rosenthal Community Kitchen:
Cincinnati COOKS!
1141 Central Parkway
Cincinnati, Ohio 45202

Please call 513-482-7298 with questions.


I certify that my answers are true and complete to the best of my knowledge. If this application leads to enrollment in the program, I understand that false or misleading information in my application or during my interview may result in my release from the program. If this application leads to enrollment in the program, I understand that I may be asked to take and pass a physical exam, drug and alcohol screening, have a TB test done, and/or have a doctor's release to participate.

Signature: (type your full name)



Mediaon June 8th, 2017Comments Off on Protected: LANDLORD DATABASE

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Story in Pictures

Mediaon June 6th, 2017Comments Off on Story in Pictures

The Giving Fields, our community farm located in Northern Kentucky is now buzzing with activity. We welcome volunteers of all ages. This is a great way to spend a summer afternoon with your family or your colleagues from work.

In early May, we re-decorated the wall in the Volunteer area of our Distribution Center on Tennessee Avenue to make it more inviting and appealing. The goal was twofold – to make the environment more comfortable and pleasing and also to use the space to inform, educate and advocate.

On Saturday, May 13, 2017 residents left non-perishable food items next to their mailboxes prior to the time of regular mail delivery. Local donations to the Freestore Foodbank through the 2017 Stamp Out Hunger food drive currently stand at the equivalent of more than 58,100 meals for our hungry neighbors.

Freestore Foodbank’s 14th Annual Hunger Walk and 5K Run presented by Kraft Heinz  was a grand success with more than 4,000 partcipants. We thank every volunteer who helped us with this event. We could not have done it without your help. Congratulations to Mathew Bohrensmeyer, first male to cross the finish line and Sara Habedank, first female to cross the finish line.

The Volunteer Connection June 2017

Mediaon June 5th, 2017Comments Off on The Volunteer Connection June 2017

Volunteer Spotlight:  Dan Burns

When Dan is asked why he’s volunteered with the Freestore Foodbank at the Giving Fields for the last six years, he simply responds, “Because it’s in my backyard.”  He is not kidding.  Dan is a local resident of Melbourne, Kentucky and has been one of our loyal volunteers since the early days of the Giving Fields project.  Most days, we see Dan navigating the rows, fence lines, and pretty much the entire length of the 10-acre farm driving a lawn mower and making sure that the fields and surroundings are well kept.  He says, “You should’ve seen the farm when it first started!  Often you couldn’t tell where the plants stopped and the grass and weeds started.  Now it’s a lovely place and people enjoy coming by, just to admire the beautiful landscape and garden.”

The real reason Dan has diligently mowed, weeded and assisted our Giving Fields’ Farm Managers for the last six years is because it is, as he himself puts it, “something simple that I can do to contribute to our community.” Although he is not a farmer himself, Dan is proud to share his knowledge and experience from owning a construction company over the years.  Maintaining the lawn is something he enjoys doing in his retirement.  He and his wife raised their family nearby and have tended their own garden over the years.  His son, Tony, and grandson, AJ, also frequently volunteer at the Giving Fields.

Dan knows the importance of including fresh fruits and vegetables in children’s meals.  He loves to look around and see the hundreds of pounds of food that are ready to be harvested and the thankful faces of the community partners who pick it up to deliver to our neighbors in need.  It brings a good feeling to be part of the effort to feed the hungry and it is worth the time that he spends volunteering at the farm .

The Giving Fields relies on the help of dedicated volunteers like Dan.  During the 2016 growing season, over 2,400 volunteers assisted with planting, weeding, harvesting, and gleaning.  No matter what their skill level, volunteers are able to help with our efforts to bring fresh healthy produce to our community agencies in Northern Kentucky.  Last year, the farm provided produce to supplement nearly 120,000 meals.  This year, we are seeking more volunteers to aid in this effort.  The farm is located only 15 minutes away from downtown Cincinnati in Melbourne, Kentucky.  We welcome kids, families, large groups and corporations. Come dig in the dirt this summer alongside Dan Burns, our extraordinary volunteer, Karen Huseman, our new Farm Manager, and Sara Steinkamp, our new Volunteer Engagement Specialist. Help us make a difference in the community!

For more information about volunteering at The Giving Fields or for questions about donating gardening items or supplies, please email our Volunteer Services Department at or call (513) 482-7550.

A Huge Hunger Walk Thank You!

While thousands of people walked to help raise funds to solve hunger on Memorial Day, a dedicated crew of over 100 volunteers helped our staff to run the event and made the 2017 Hunger Walk 5K a huge success!  Every step taken helped the Freestore Foodbank to finish strong.  The Hunger Walk raised funds to support our partner agencies. Whether you ran, walked or helped the Freestore to organize the event, we want to thank you for your efforts!  Together, we can solve hunger!

Volunteer Fun in the Summer Sun: Upcoming Events and Opportunities

We need your help to accomplish our mission to feed our hungry neighbors, while providing opportunities for them to become more self-sufficient.  We need volunteers every day to help grow healthy fruits and vegetables on the farm, sort and pack food donations in our warehouse, share skills and knowledge in our workforce development efforts, as well as lead special events in our community.  Whatever your passion, we can find a fit for you as we work together to solve hunger in the tristate region.

Check out the volunteer registration and information page to sign up to volunteer for our ongoing group and individual volunteer opportunities at the Giving Fields, Mayerson Distribution Center, Customer Connection Center and Special Events in the community.

Giving Fields (Melbourne, KY)
Do you have a green thumb, want to get closer to nature or just like to play in the dirt while making a difference in our community?  
Are you looking for an individual, family or corporate group activity? If so, the Giving Fields is the place for you!

Volunteers of all ages are needed to help plant, weed, and create a more food-secure environment for all.  Giving Fields’ volunteers will help care for and harvest the many different crops that are donated to community pantries in Northern Kentucky.  Tasks vary per day, but may include any of the following tasks: planting, weeding, mulching, harvesting and gleaning.   Check out available dates here:  I Want to Volunteer at the Giving Fields!

Mayerson Distribution Center (Bond Hill)
Would you like to help provide millions of meals each month to our hungry neighbors in the tri-state?
  If so, the Mayerson Distribution Center is the place for you!

Volunteers assist with a variety of warehouse activities that will enable Freestore Foodbank to provide healthy stable food to children, youth and adults throughout the tri-state.  Projects will vary based on the time of the year, product supply and demand.  This summer, volunteers will focus on three major projects:

Innovative Summer Meal Program:  Many children received free and reduced breakfast and lunches during the school year, but when summer comes they may not know where their next meal will come from. Through the Innovative Summer Meal Program, volunteer assemble food boxes that ensures that children will have meals during the summer months until school resumes.

Food Sorting Program:  Volunteers evaluate, sort, and box non-perishable food donations from community food drives which are then sent to one of the three fifty community partner agencies for distribution.

Senior Box Program:  Volunteers assemble shelf stable boxes of food for elderly residents who need a little extra assistance monthly.

I want to volunteer at the Mayerson Distribution Center!

Ongoing Volunteer Events
Would you like to commit to one or more 4 hour shifts a week and share your special skills or experience with the staff and customers of the Freestore Foodbank
?  Do you possess valuable knowledge that can help promote the mission of the agency and self-sufficiency of our customers?

Volunteers are needed to assist in a variety of areas throughout the agency depending on your skills and passion.  Currently, we are seeking volunteers in following areas:

  • Communication and Front Desk Reception at the Customer Connection Center
  • Hospitality and Customer services in the Stop & Shop Area at the Mayerson Distribution Center
  • Soft Skill Instructors for Cincinnati Cooks! and Lift the Tri-State
  • and other various projects throughout the agency.

Email  Volunteer Services to explore these and other ongoing opportunities.

Special Events
Mid-July through early September – Check Out Duck (At select Kroger stores in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana). We will be gearing up for “Duck Season” at the Freestore Foodbank in preparation of the 23rd Annual Rubber Duck Regatta shortly!  We are seeking volunteers to help maintain duck placards (coupon holders) with tear off coupons at local Kroger checkout counters and UScan stations for the coming campaign next month. This fundraiser is a convenient way for people to buy ducks as they pay for their groceries. Last year, this campaign yielded close to $200,000 in duck sales with the help of our partners at Kroger and our dedicated volunteers. Mark your calendar now for this upcoming special event opportunity.  Details will be posted on the website by mid-June.



Thank you to the following groups for your support May 2017!
We sincerely appreciate their continued support and contribution of their time.

Mayerson Distribution Center (Tennessee Avenue)

  • A Children’s Home
  • Cincinnati Bell
  • Fifth Third
  • Gamble Montessori High School
  • General Electric
  • Gloria Dei Lutheran Church
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Kiwanis
  • Lakeside Presbyterian Church
  • Macy’s
  • Marathon Petroleum Corporation
  • Reckitt Benckiser
  • Redeemer Church
  • St. Xavier School
  • The Gathering-Slagle
  • Tri-State Freethinkers
  • Turpin High School
  • Unaffiliated Users
  • US Bank
  • Vantiv
  • Western Southern Financial

Giving Fields (Melbourne, KY)

  • Celanese
  • Keurig Green Mountain
  • Cincinnati Bell
  • UPS
  • Michelman
  • Fifth Third
  • Unilever Cincinnati
  • KeyBank
  • Seven Hills High School
  • Empire Marketing Strategies

Food Room (Liberty Street)

  • Cintas
  • Fifth Third

FeedingWorks: Transformational Teambuilding

Looking for a new way to strengthen your team’s ability to communicate, problem-solve and manage conflict while improving your opportunities to provide successful outcomes? Looking for an opportunity to not only grow stronger as a team internally, but to make an external impact on the community? Consider FeedingWorks, the Freestore Foodbank’s social enterprise.

FeedingWorks is a unique combination of professional leadership development and the transformational experience of a team working together to make a tangible difference in the lives of others. Teams form genuine bonds through this experience which is based on the principle of giving back while developing yourself and your team.

For more information about how your company can benefit from FeedingWorks, please visit

Recipe from Chef John Tschofen

Mediaon June 5th, 2017Comments Off on Recipe from Chef John Tschofen

Photo courtesy: Food Network

Baked Phyllo Breakfast Cups


  • 6 sheets Phyllo Dough (thawed)
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup diced ham
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese
  • 6 eggs
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Place one sheet of phyllo dough on table and brush with melted butter. Repeat six times. Do not butter the sixth sheet
  2. Cut into six squares
  3. Place the squares into greased muffin pan
  4. In medium bowl mix together all other ingredients
  5. Beat eggs for one minute and mix it in
  6. Pour into phyllo cup evenly
  7. Bake 375 degree for 12 mins.

Catch up on our Advocacy Efforts

Mediaon June 5th, 2017Comments Off on Catch up on our Advocacy Efforts

Advocacy aims to educate and mobilize Freestore Foodbank’s supporters at the local and national level around issues that impact the most vulnerable members of our society.  Our lawmakers and elected officials face important decisions over the next few months that could have a significant impact on our clients’ lives.

In Ohio, deliberations continue on the 2018-19 biennial budget.  In January of this year, Governor John Kasich unveiled his budget while warning lawmakers, lobbyists and business officials that there will be little room for spending increases. The Ohio Association of Food Banks has requested a $30M per year allocation to comprehensively address hunger issues across the state. This will fund critical programs such as the Ohio Food Program, the Ohio Agricultural Clearance Program and several others that are equally important and effective. “Instead of single-sourced, siloed programs that operate separate and apart, we want full integration,” explains Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, the Executive Director of the Ohio Association.  A comprehensive approach will allow the maximum amount of funding to be directed to where maximum need is while minimizing administrative costs and streamlining operations. In early May the budget bill was approved 58-37 by the House and is currently facing deliberations in the Senate.  It is expected that the state budget will be approved by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Kasich by June 30.

In an exciting turn of events in Kentucky, Governor Matt Bevin recently signed House Bill 237 which encourages businesses and private individuals to donate food to charitable organizations by protecting them from being sued by individuals who may claim to have been harmed by consuming donated food.  This Good Samaritan law that addresses food donations provides organizations with enhanced immunity from lawsuits based on nature, age and packaging of the food donated. “We think, just by early estimates, we should be able to save a million pounds of food that would go into the landfills,” says Kurt Reiber, President and CEO of the Freestore Foodbank.

Indiana’s lawmakers passed a series of bills in early spring this year to help children, the unemployed and individuals with disabilities. Of these Senate Bill 154 expanded eligibility for individual and families who sign up to receive benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The bill raises the limit on liquid assets that a family can hold to a maximum of $5,000. This makes it possible for more families to qualify for assistance than in the past.

Our advocacy efforts help us raise awareness and leverage the support of lawmakers to influence policy decisions that have a long-term impact on our programs. To get involved in our advocacy efforts feel free to call Rajani Menon at (513) 482-4503

Heart House: Partner with a Big Heart

Mediaon June 5th, 2017Comments Off on Heart House: Partner with a Big Heart

Heart House: Partner with a Big Heart“Would you like to see the strange butterfly outside our door?” I looked up from my phone, startled by the voice that broke the silence in the quiet, empty front office of Heart House.  A young woman looked down at me, her deep blue eyes twinkling with friendship and curiosity. “I thought you might be bored,” she said as she studied my face, waiting to see if I would return her smile. She wore frayed denim shorts and a bright yellow t-shirt and had spiked brown hair. On her wrist was a fascinating array of colorful bracelets. A pink smartphone peeked out of the back pocket of her shorts. Grateful for the company I smiled back at her, my heart warming at this friendly overture. As I scrambled to my feet and followed her to the door, I furtively studied my new friend. She looked about 25 years old. My gaze traveled to her heavy work boots.  I wondered if she worked in a warehouse. And then I heard my breath catch as my eyes fell on the sinister black device that was fastened to her left foot.  The ankle monitor revealed a troubling truth – my charming friend Sylvia was on house-arrest.

Heart House: Partner with a Big HeartNestled among the rolling hills of Aurora, Indiana, Heart House Inc., a partner agency of the Freestore Foodbank, is the largest homeless shelter south of Indianapolis. It has been in operation for over 15 years, providing temporary shelter and housing to almost 4,500 individuals and families since its inception. Heart House is a 72-bed facility that houses men, women and families with children.

Heart House is unique in that it concentrates on helping residents find jobs. “The most important goal of Heart House is to help residents find employment so that they can ultimately be in permanent housing. To this end, we work with them to help them stay focused on a job-search,” says Nancy Lunsford, Case Manager. They often use community resources such as WorkOne and SIEOC (Southern Indiana Economic Opportunity Corporation) to help with resume building and job placement.  Residents are encouraged to look for jobs online. They are urged to fill out at least 10 job applications per day. Within the first week or two most of them find some sort of employment. “We have close to a 90% job placement rate,” says Craig Beckley, Executive Director.

Heart House: Partner with a Big HeartHeart House works with the prison and county jail to provide temporary shelter and housing for released prisoners, those on parole or house arrest. Once the residents find employment they are expected to pay a nominal “program fee” to Heart House.  However under extenuating circumstances, they are allowed to waive the fee. Lunsford explains, “Our goal is not to collect their money, but to get them to be independent. So when they are strapped for cash, we encourage them to save so that they can eventually be self-sufficient.” The residents do all the cooking and cleaning. Disabled residents who cannot find work are offered the option to volunteer at Heart House – either in the kitchen or in housekeeping.  Birthdays are celebrated. The kids go to school – arrangements are made for the school bus to pick them up. “We become a very close-knit family,” Lunsford adds. “The residents take care of one another. If one of them ends up not having enough money to pay for personal items, the others will pitch in and help them out.”

Heart House: Partner with a Big HeartHeart House serves three meals a day to its residents. The Freestore Foodbank plays an important role in ensuring that there is always enough food to go around.  As a result of its partnership with the Freestore Foodbank, Heart House is the recipient of donated food from local businesses such as frozen pizza from Little Caesars (which is a favorite among the residents), meat from Kroger and produce, meat and bread from Aldi. In addition, the United States Department of Agriculture delivers frozen fruit, chicken and rare treats such as shredded cheese once a month.

Heart House is always looking for ways to increase capacity. They are currently in need of additional freezer space. By supporting the Freestore Foodbank, you are helping our partner agencies. To donate please click on

A Donor with a Delicious History

Mediaon June 5th, 2017Comments Off on A Donor with a Delicious History

As I weave my way through heavy afternoon traffic on Glenway Avenue I wonder about the person I am about to meet.  Skyline Chili is a dearly loved favorite. There is something about a cheese-laden, cinnamon-laced 3-way that I, like thousands of others in Cincinnati, find comforting and irresistible. I pull into the parking lot and walk into the cool, inviting interior of a Skyline restaurant. Momentarily blinded from the bright sun outside, I look around and recognize familiar upholstered seats and pristine tiled floors. A tall, handsome young man in dark slacks and a stylish shirt emerges and as we shake hands he says, “Hi! I am Nick Lambrinides. Pleased to meet you.” Nick and his dad co-own Skyline Chili on Glenway  Ave., and his family owns the Northgate and Dent locations of the restaurant.  He also happens to be the great-grandson of Skyline’s founder, Greek immigrant Nicholas Lambrinides. I follow Nick to a quiet corner of the restaurant to learn more about Skyline’s relationship with the Freestore Foodbank.

The Lambrinides family have been generous supporters of the Freestore Foodbank since 2008 when John Young, the former President and CEO introduced Nick Lambrinides to the organization. Nick was impressed by the breadth and reach of the services offered by the Freestore. “The number of families and children that are fed each year by the Freestore Foodbank was astonishing to me,” he remembers.  He was especially inspired by Cincinnati COOKS!, the 10-week long culinary job training program run by the Freestore Foodbank  for under and unemployed individuals. Nick and his father set up an endowment to fund an annual scholarship so a COOKS! graduate can attend Cincinnati State every year. Nick was invited to serve on the COOKS! Committee in 2014, side-by-side with Board members, the CEO and staff of the Freestore Foodbank.  He is consistently impressed by  the wealth of knowledge that each Committee member brings  to the table. “They are all so dedicated and have such big hearts for the community,” he remarks.

Nick lives on the Westside of Cincinnati. His brothers live close by and they are a large, close-knit family.  Every five weeks, Cincinnati COOKS! holds a graduation ceremony. Nick remembers attending and admits that he found them moving and powerful. “I got to listen to the stories of the graduates and understood why they joined the program and how it helped them get their lives back on track. The graduates are living proof that the program works.” Nick comments.   In his opinion, the best part of the program is that it places individuals on the path to financial stability by teaching them new skills and giving them a second chance.

Nick is thankful for the opportunity to have met some amazing people while supporting the Freestore Foodbank. He oversees the finances of Cincinnati COOKS!, often getting involved in new projects and grappling with issues related to finding new funding for the program.  A few years ago he repurposed an old oven from his restaurant and donated it to the COOKS! kitchen. He is passionate about helping others and believes it is his duty to give back to the community. “Always ask God to guide you and follow your heart. Give graciously, it will always come back to you in one way or another,” he says.  As I finish up my interview I am struck by the humility and generosity of this young man.

Cincinnati COOKS! Opens Doors

Mediaon June 5th, 2017Comments Off on Cincinnati COOKS! Opens Doors

It was a Saturday afternoon just like any other at the state prison. Mike Doty was perched awkwardly on a stool in the corner of a bare room, his shoulders hunched as he tried to keep the conversation private. He was on the phone with his mom at the end of yet another long and uneventful week.  This was certainly the high point of his week – when he heard his mom’s voice and listened with pride to stories about his children. He always made it a point to sound upbeat in those conversations, so he could keep her spirits up.  Mike’s mom was recovering from a car accident that had left her paralyzed.  He thought she sounded particularly weak and distant that day. Mike smiled as his mom described how tall his son had grown and how smart his little girl was. Suddenly he heard what sounded like a crash at the other end, followed by a moan and labored breathing. “Mom!” Mike screamed into the phone. “Can you hear me? Mom! Mom!” He heard gasps on the phone and then to his horror, the line went dead.  Mike’s mother suffered five seizures that afternoon and was found an hour later close to death.

It was Mike’s second term in prison. He had been there for close to four years.  It felt like a lifetime. In addition to his mother’s medical crisis while he was incarcerated, his brother had passed away. When Mike was finally released from prison he was desperate to get his life back on track. He began looking for a job. To his greatest anguish, his prior convictions made it nearly impossible for him to find employment.  He enjoyed cooking and hoped to find work in a restaurant someplace just to make ends meet.  In the midst of looking for a catering position, Mike stumbled upon Freestore Foodbank’s Cincinnati COOKS! program.

Cincinnati COOKS! a free 10-week long culinary training program is offered by the Freestore Foodbank to under and unemployed individuals. The course teaches the basic mechanics of working in a commercial kitchen with the goal of helping students gain employment in the food service industry. Mike was skeptical about whether he would be accepted into the COOKS! program.  Hoping for the best, he put in his application. “I was in total disbelief when they told me I was admitted to the program,” Mike comments. “Having faced rejection so many times, I made up my mind at that moment, to never mess up again.” Mike fell in love with Cincinnati COOKS! and the culinary skills he was taught. He graduated in 10 weeks and it was one of the proudest moments of his life to share his success with his mom.

Mike was offered a job at Aunty’s Homemade Food almost immediately following graduation. This was his first job in a real kitchen. “I was fascinated to watch them make everything from scratch – granola, alfredo sauce and even hickory-smoked bacon!” he remembers with a smile.  A few months later, when the chef at Aunty’s moved to Firehouse Grill in Blue Ash, he took Mike with him. At Firehouse Grill, Mike learned to work in a big kitchen.  He enjoyed the busy, packed atmosphere of the restaurant.  While working at Firehouse, he heard about Second Course, an eight-week extension of the COOKS! job training program by the Freestore Foodbank, that teaches advanced culinary skills. In addition, the program would count as credit towards a Kitchen Management Certificate from Cincinnati State.  Mike was drawn to the idea of learning new skills while at the same time earning college credit.  Before he knew it, he was accepted into Second Course!

Mike describes Second Course as an amazing learning experience.  “I saw myself evolving into a cook. It was tough. But I stuck with it, enjoyed it as much as I could, had fun and learned a lot. The relationships I built in the program kept me going. I had people around me who believed in me and wanted to help me succeed. The friends I made at Cincinnati COOKS! have supported me every step of the way.”

Today, Mike holds the position of Executive Chef at Keystone Bar and Grill, Clifton. As the Executive Chef of Keystone’s largest and busiest location, he is in charge of food and labor costs, ordering supplies and managing the kitchen.  He recently hired three other graduates from Cincinnati COOKS! to work under him. Mike is liked and respected by the staff at Keystone. His leadership skills and attention to detail have contributed to his success. “I am ecstatic to have Michael on our team,” says Ryan Shewmaker, General Manager of Keystone Bar and Grill. “He is an extremely hard worker and a dedicated individual. He is a natural leader.” Mike’s knowledge and expertise are considered extraordinary.  His colleagues look to him for inspiration.  Erin Ennis, Assistant Manager has nothing but praise for him. “We love having him here. His leadership skills, dedication to product quality and product safety are wonderful. And, he makes great soup!”

Mike credits his success to hard work and perseverance. “Cincinnati COOKS! is a wonderful program. You’ll get out of it as much as you put into it. Success is never handed to you. You have to work for it.” Mike feels that his struggles in life taught him lessons he will never forget.  He thanks the Freestore Foodbank for opening doors for him and giving him a second chance.

Mark and Virgie Hunter: A Labor of Love

Mediaon May 1st, 2017Comments Off on Mark and Virgie Hunter: A Labor of Love

Mark and Virgie Hunter: A Labor of LoveMark Hunter is hunched over a laptop in his office in a compact, single-story building in Portsmouth, Ohio.  Books and papers are stacked around him. He glances away from his computer and a smile lights up his face as he clears a spot for me on the chair next to him.  “I am writing a proposal,” he tells me as I settle into the chair. “It will help deliver food to even more kids.” I smile back at him.  I am used to Mark’s enthusiasm as well as his generosity.

Mark and Virgie Hunter embarked upon their mission to combat childhood hunger many years ago under the most horrific circumstances. In 2006, they tragically lost their son Steven at age 21 to a rare and undetected heart condition.  Steven had a passion for helping those who were less fortunate.  And Portsmouth unfortunately had a high poverty rate. So, at his funeral, in lieu of flowers, Mark and Virgie considered it fitting to ask for donations to help students at Steven’s high school with shoes, clothes and other basic needs. What started out as an attempt to assist a few neighborhood kids quickly gained momentum and led to the founding of the Steven A. Hunter Hope Fund. In the first few years, the Hope Fund focused on purchasing shoes, clothes, coats and school supplies for high school students.

In 2009, Mark and Virgie came to the realization that they needed to do more.  It was obvious to them that many of the children in local schools struggled with hunger over the weekend.  Around the same time, Virgie heard about Freestore Foodbank’s Power Pack Program (packs of food that are sent home with kids on Friday so they can have something to eat over the weekend).  Mark and Virgie decided to make a trip to Cincinnati to meet with the Freestore Foodbank and explore options for distributing Power Packs in Scioto County.  “The Freestore Foodbank had a well-planned program in place with an efficient delivery mechanism. In addition, they were able to assure us that their Power Packs contained safe and nutritious food items purchased specifically for the program. Their tried and tested approach drew our attention and we immediately decided to partner with them,” Mark explains.

Mark and Virgie Hunter: A Labor of LoveIn January 2010, Mark and Virgie launched their partnership with the Freestore Foodbank by distributing Power Packs to 90 students in two elementary schools in Scioto County.  It did not take long for the community to rally behind their cause. Mark and Virgie continue to raise money for their efforts through fundraisers, walkathons and tennis tournaments.  They currently distribute 44,000 Power Packs in 18 schools in Scioto, Pike and Adams counties during the school year.  “Virgie and I couldn’t do this alone,” Mark remarks.  “We are so blessed to live in a community that wholeheartedly supports us.”

Beth Born is the Principal of Portsmouth Elementary School where 97% of the students qualify for the free lunch program. “The Power Pack program is a lifeline for our students,” she says. “The students look forward to taking them home on Friday. Most of them depend on their Power Pack to meet their basic need for food over the weekend.” Students who struggle with hunger often display symptoms such as low energy, short attention span and the inability to focus. “Many of our students do better academically and are more confident once they get in the program,” remarks Angela Byers-Johnson, third grade intervention specialist. There is currently a waiting list at Portsmouth Elementary to get in the program.

In addition to helping hundreds of kids, this unique endeavor has given the Hunters a purpose in life and a way to channel their grief towards something positive.  “Our work brings smiles into our lives amidst the tears. Being around kids, seeing their faces light up and knowing that we are able to make a difference – that makes all of this worth it.” Mark smiles wistfully as he turns back to his computer to hammer out yet another proposal to help hungry children in Ohio.

You can also be a partner in Freestore Foodbank’s fight against childhood hunger. To find out how, click here.