AKRON, Ohio — On a chilly 26° day, hundreds of people gathered outside the "Just a Dad from Akron" store in the Kenmore neighborhood, as part of their third annual Christmas Giveaway.
The event, meant to help provide children with gifts on Christmas, marks a culmination of work done by the store's founder, Kenny Lambert.
"I get the hope and the joy of seeing the parents and kids being able to get something," Lambert explained. "That feeling is priceless."
"All these toys are going to go to kids in the community who don’t have the opportunity or blessings to get them," Lambert explained to students.
It's a stark contrast to his life just several years ago.
Lambert once filled a folder at the Summit County Jail including misdemeanors and felonies, for charges including aggravated drug possession, DUI and trespassing.
"For me, it started drinking and smoking weed," Lambert explained. "From there, I got wrapped up in the lifestyle of drinking every day, doing pills, and then doing heroin, every drug and experimental. That led me to some of the darkest places. Everyone important in my life wanted nothing to do with me."
His dad, Kirk, lost count of all the charges. After kicking Kenny out of the house, Kirk said he spent years waiting for his son to become a statistic.
"Me and my wife always thought we’d get a knock at the door that he was either going to prison or that he was dead from drugs," Kirk Lambert said.
"I felt no hope and felt like that was my destiny to be a drug addict and I felt so trapped," Kenny Lambert said. "Through addiction, me and my dad never really had a relationship."
In Summit County, 182 people died last year from opioids. This year, more than 1,000 drug overdoses have filled emergency rooms in the Akron area.
Four and a half years ago, Lambert said everything changed on the corner of Wooster and Waterloo in Barberton.
"That’s really the life changing light," he said. "At this light I was high on heroin and Xanax and I passed out behind the wheel."
That arrest would be his last.
So what changed? What clicked? Why is Kenny Lambert bringing his darkest memories into the light?
The answer lies in a pair of his duplicated bright blue eyes and a daughter named Amelia.
A dad teaching his daughter about life, while learning his own lessons.
"You know the whole reason of the store is because of you," he shared with his daughter. "You inspired dad to get sober and be a good dad."
From there, Kenny’s uphill battle became a downhill sprint by opening the retail apparel store "Just a Dad from Akron" to help his neighborhood.
"When I got this, it was completely abandoned and had been abandoned for eight years," he said.
A safe space on the same streets that used to poison Kenny’s way of life.
"Being here on Kenmore Boulevard, it's very humbling to be homeless on this boulevard five years ago and struggling with addiction," he said. "It’s a very good reminder to never forget where I came from."
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