TOLEDO, Ohio — You could call Janine Gwozdz a senior citizen.
You could call her particular.
But if that’s all you call Janine, you’d be doing her a disservice.
“Sometimes I get too assertive - people tell me that - but I had to survive," she said.
You see, there’s a lot about Gwozdz’s life she didn’t get to choose.
“I lost a 16-year job with five minutes’ notice, and they denied my unemployment, and all of a sudden, my life changed," she said.
After the economy tanked during the Great Recession, Gwozdz found she could never fully recover from the job loss. Then her mother died in 2010.
“I thought, 'You can’t just lay in bed and curl up in the fetal position and cry,'" Gwozdz said. "You have to just go on.”
And more than 20 years later, ever-practical, she did go on.
“I met Janine when she came to our Augsberg food pantry about a year ago, wondering what was going on in the parking lot," Food for Thought Executive Director Tonya Scherf said. "She comes very regularly, and we’ve become friends.”
Gwozdz likes the variety of options.
“I was drawn to Food for Thought because they let you pick what you want," she said. "Just because we’re low income doesn’t mean we don’t have taste bud preferences.”
Choice offers freedom and dignity, something Food for Thought’s leaders believe is key to breaking the stigma about asking for help.
“Number one, offer choice," Scherf said. "Let families and individuals choose their own items like they’re shopping at a grocery store, and build relationships with them.”
Food for Thought operates 10 different pantries throughout Toledo, offering fresh produce, with no limits on visits. The pandemic has drastically increased the number of new faces they see, and now inflation is having a similar effect.
“Especially now with the cost of groceries, oh my god, I’m finding I can’t get much that I used to get," Gwozdz said.
But free of charge is the relationship built through thoughtful giving.
“We know her, we look for her, we expect her, we worry about her when we don’t see her," Scherf said.
Gwozdz appreciates how the pantry treats their guests.
“They don’t look down on you, and they’ll talk to you," she said. "Everybody’s very helpful, and they understand about your situation. They understand that you’re picky with what you want to take, and that’s just phenomenal.”
Each visit, Gwozdz leaves with her basket full – filled with more than just food.
If you’d like to support people just like her and the work Food for Thought does, you can buy tickets to attend Hop Chef on Thursday night where you’ll get to taste delicious food and beer pairings from local chefs as they compete for the Hop Chef award.
If you can’t attend, you can donate to Food for Thought’s fundraiser.