WILLOWICK, Ohio — When schools in Lake County closed in March of 2020 because of the pandemic, churches, businesses, and elected officials came together to help feed kids who depended on school for food.
Since then, the Free Lunch Program at Willow Praise church has grown to include back-to-school supplies, coats, and sneakers.
“The need is there, when we do more in the community, the need comes out and we are expanding,” said organizer Mike Zuren.
The program has helped thousands of children since it started, including mother Kelly Kokal and her kids.
“We have a lot of kids, it's a lot of help,” she said.
She lost her job during the pandemic.
“We’ve been living with my parents and it’s hard, it’s really been a huge help with going through all of this,” Kokal said.
Her dad, Kirk Kokal, usually takes his grandkids to the once-monthly program.
He said the kids love it, and he loves the time with them.
“I think it’s building memories I don’t think they will ever forget,” said Kirk. He is now paying it forward by either donating or helping.
Sometimes the line around the Willow Praise Church in Willowick stretches around the building. Since the program started, Mike Zuren, one of the organizers, said the need has changed.
“The need is there. When we do more in the community, the need comes out,” Zuren said.
That’s why along with lunches, there have been Halloween treats, book bags with school supplies, sneakers and more. The next free lunch programs will offer children hats, coats and gloves. Zuren said they are expecting a couple hundred children. They are still in need of monetary donations or coats, gloves and hats. The group is accepting donations until November 13. That is the day the program will pass out the hats, gloves and coats along with lunch.
Donations can be dropped off at the Willow Praise Church at 32901 Vine Street in Willowick.
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