LoveLight expands food distribution during pandemic; more than quadruples number of meals normally provided

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Meals being prepared for LoveLight’s summer lunch program.

Anthony Elder reporter

LoveLight, Inc., a non-profit organization based in Kent, has closed its in-person programs such as Tutoring PLUS and has turned focus to its meal distribution program due to the pandemic. The organization has more than quadrupled the number of free meals it would normally provide to the children of community families. 

More than 14,000 meals were provided during the summer of 2020, as well as another 12,902 suppers and an equivalent number of snacks from October to December. 

Activity bags have also been sent home to families that want them, including art supplies, small toys and even a chef kit equipped with aprons, chef’s hats and instructions for making parfaits.

A normal summer lunch program for LoveLight distributes more than five thousand free meals to families with children that show a need for them. They did 5,820 meals in 2019. LoveLight was able to provide many more meals for 2020 by allowing more families to receive food and extending the program through the winter.

According to Lisbeth Justice, CEO of LoveLight, Inc. and a professor for the Department of Psychological Sciences at Kent State, the number of meals distributed in 2020 is a symptom of the pandemic. “With COVID it was a whole new ballgame,” she said.

“We had a program, Tutoring PLUS, at the episcopal church that we were doing. … We stopped doing that and we stopped doing any face-to-face activities with the kids,” Justice said. “…But in Kent we had a grant from the city that enabled us to plan and send home activities.”

The organization also received a CARES grant that assists with the extending of the food distribution program and allowed the purchase of a new freezer and refrigerator for organization use.

Food for the program is purchased directly from stores such as Giant Eagle and Acme, and meat is purchased through Sysco. 

“We’re putting a good $20,000 into the economy each month buying food from the vendors,” Justice said.

LoveLight currently runs primarily off of volunteer help, having more volunteers than staff, according to Justice. 

Volunteers like Stephanie Brooks, a senior psychology major at Kent State University, help deliver and distribute food and activities to the various neighborhoods in the Kent area. This is done every Wednesday and a whole week’s worth of food is given for each child.

According to Brooks, the food program corresponds with her degree concentration, which she explains is the study of how your mind affects your body and your immune system.

“Diet is a really huge part,” Brooks said. “Diet for children is so important for their developmental growth, it’s so important for brain health, it’s so important for everything so being able to give food to these kids is really important to me.”

According to Brooks the food program is currently planned to continue through spring, and parents looking to benefit from the program can email or call LoveLight with their name and contact information as well as the number of children in the house and their ages.

Following the pandemic, LoveLight hopes to return to its in-person activities for children and bring back Tutoring PLUS. They are also currently raising money to purchase the former Kent State golf course clubhouse, which will house both their educational and recreational programs as well as local community functions like workshops. 

People can donate to LoveLight through their website.

LoveLight would like to recognize the contributions of the late E. Timothy Moore.

Anthony Elder covers crisis, recovery, hunger and help. Contact him at [email protected]