TOLEDO, Ohio — Leaders helping the homeless at the Cherry Street Mission said the number of people served on a monthly basis has nearly doubled year over year.
It's not just the mission noticing an increase. Jacob Estrada, who owns Lowrider Cafe, has noticed the surge too.
"We want people to walk into this restaurant and feel like regardless of their stature, where they come from, their background, where they're at in life, they can sit down and come in and get a meal amongst society," Estrada said.
For Estrada, his downtown Toledo cafe located off Michigan Street is more than just an average restaurant, but a community center aimed at giving back.
As the restaurant comes up on three years, they want to finally celebrate what they didn't get to in the other years.
"We ripped right into it. We didn't have time for any formal celebration or anything and then when we wanted to in our one-year anniversary, COVID had hit," Estrada said.
They have a lot to be proud of; from their wide menu all the way to their "love tokens" that can be purchased and kept, or donated to be used by anyone in need of a meal. Estrada said the tokens are in more demand this summer.
"Our numbers have risen with people coming in and getting love tokens. Now it's not just the homeless coming in. More people on low income," he said. "Obviously, with prices going up on everything, I think people are taking the advantage of that to come in and get a free meal because anything helps."
Love tokens are $7 and a simple way to pay it forward.
"We are getting pretty exhausted out on our love tokens, so there is a need for that right now, if the community wants to partner with that," Estrada said.
One of those people who finds support in the tokens is John, who was homeless and met Estrada when he worked at Cherry Street Mission. Now John has a home and works as a vendor for the Toledo Streets Newspaper.
"For us vendors, once a month we can come in at 2 o'clock and get a free love token meal, a free Mexican meal," John said. "It's very nice."
And for Estrada, a love token is much more than a piece of wood. It's a show of appreciation for Toledo, as Lowrider Cafe celebrates three years on July 25 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.