LIMA — In a small space located on Allentown Road, Joe, Jenny and their 13-year-old son Isaac dart around piles of boxed food packing containers of easy-to-make pasta and cereal into crates while discarding square feet of cardboard packaging behind them.
For the couple, it’s just one part of their weekly routine created to ensure students dealing with hunger have access to food outside of the school cafeteria.
The Earls were awarded with a 2019 Jefferson Award for their work.
“It’s something we partnered with God to do. There’s no way we could have done this alone,” Joe said.
Started by the Earls in 2010, the Meals ’Til Monday nonprofit buys food in bulk and — through its 60-plus volunteers — ensures the students from 10 elementary schools in the region discretely receive snacks, two breakfasts, two lunches and two dinners every Friday.
As the couple tell it, they fell into the work after they felt the call to a higher ministry after visiting Peru in 2010.
Upon returning, they pitched the idea of providing weekend meals to the Elida School Board. But the need was more than they had originally thought. Joe said they were expecting to provide the food personally — buying a few bulk packages here and there and distributing it to the few who may have needed it. But when Elida presented a list of 30 or so families that could use the program, the Earls had to reassess.
According to Joe, God had bigger plans in store.
The couple contacted an attorney and an accountant. They formed an official nonprofit, and they started to get things moving by accumulating support from a wide range of service clubs and corporate donors.
“We didn’t know what we were doing, but that has made it more exciting,” Joe said.
Donations began to support the organization. Volunteers became involved. A donated space became available further down the line, and a few years into the work, schools began to contact them for the service.
“We’ve never wanted for help. We’ve never wanted for funding,” Jenny said. “We feel very bless for people to come and help.”
Today, the couple and their cadre of volunteers put together over 400 packages of meals, which are then distributed to students in 10 schools in the region.
“It’s the kind of thing that teachers have done for a number of years. We’re just more organized,” Jenny said.
“On some level, we help level the playing field,” Joe said. “We want kids to realize that there are people out there that care.”
Judy Bechtel, who nominated the Earls, said she hasn’t worked directly with the Earls, but she has seen the result due to her time spent as a bus driver at Bath.
“I really believe in the program and really admire Jenny and Joe for starting it,” Bechtel said. “It helps feed the kids. So many kids don’t have enough to eat.”
“So many children in our community would have been hungry on the weekends without Joe and Jenny Earl’s tireless work,” Elida School Board Member Brenda Stocker wrote in her recommendation letter for the couple. “They are exactly what the Jefferson Award is — ordinary people doing extraordinary things without expectation of recognition.”
The Jefferson Award recognition dinner is scheduled for Tuesday, March 26, at the Knights of Columbus hall, 810 S. Cable Road.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.