She knew the food was available. She knew the kids were hungry. There was only one answer that made sense.
Angelique Suarez, 44, decided to deliver those food boxes herself in the south end of Lima and Perry Township.
“I have 13 kids, and my kids have a lot of friends. To be truthful, the word that says it best is a lot of them are low-income, many of them single moms,” Suarez said. “When COVID happened, some of them might get food stamps, but some didn’t. They just needed their school lunches so they could eat. I knew it was a problem getting the food to them, so I offered to take the food to the kids’ friends’ houses.”
She started dropping off those free lunches for 16 children who were friends of her children — six biological and seven adopted — near her home on Albert Street. Before too long, that number went up to 65. Then she started volunteering to bring food boxes around for the Salvation Army too, with up to 101 families getting a visit from her every Wednesday. She never asked for gas money or compensation for her time.
“She was like the postman,” said Perry Superintendent Kelly Schooler. “She always showed up. It didn’t matter what the weather was like; she was always there.”
From April through August, Suarez delivered 1,021 meals to hungry children in the Perry schools, Schooler said. It’s a reminder of how fragile food security can be in the region. So many children relying on their school lunches to nourish them over the middle of the day. The federal government stepped up to fund these food boxes until in-person learning resumed this fall.
More than bringing food, she delivered a sense of hope during a frightening time. Neighbors ask her to check up on elderly people living on Second, Third, Fourth and Holmes streets, just to be sure they’re doing all right while maintaining social distancing.
“I have learned that if you give people a chance that people are good people,” Suarez said. “I love what I’m doing. I see how people get so happy over a box of food like you gave them $1 million.”
Suarez, a lifelong Lima resident, has seen that goodness in people. They helped her in December 2015 when a fire destroyed her home on Fourth Street. She saw it when people forgave her for her smaller part in a daycare fraud scheme back in 2011 that left her with five years’ probation and paying restitution to the state.
“People do not treat me as if I defrauded anybody,” Suarez said. “They don’t. They treat me for who I am now, not who I was or what I’ve done.”
That’s why she’s so forgiving of someone who stole from her. She had a trailer to help with her deliveries, which made it so she could make all her deliveries in two loads. Someone took it a few weeks ago. Now it takes eight to 10 loads with her Chevy pickup truck or van, which makes it harder. In some cases, she’s started delivering every other week, she said. She shrugged off the loss.
“People do dumb things,” Suarez said. “Someone obviously needed it more than I did. People make mistakes. That part I do know. It didn’t stop me from trying to help.”
After hearing about the stolen truck, Schooler gushed more about the woman she first met as a parent of several Perry students.
“She’s amazing,” Schooler said. “She’s one of the most resilient people I know. She breeds resiliency around her. It’s an incredible trait.”
Suarez’s delivery route will get a little smaller in the coming months, as she backs down on regular food deliveries for the Salvation Army at the end of November. She’ll still be a proxy for some families to get their Christmas boxes in December through the Salvation Army.
“I had an extremely bad childhood and met someone that wasn’t always the nicest person,” Suarez said. “Then I met someone one day, a foster mom, who taught me you always have to look at the better side of things. There are good things happening. You just have to look for them.”