Skip to main content

In Ohio, Giving Back to their Communities is What OAPSE Members Do

Members of the OAPSE/AFSCME Local 4 are helping relieve hunger for thousands of Ohio school children.
By Clyde Weiss ·
In Ohio, Giving Back to their Communities is What OAPSE Members Do OAPSE Local 181 Pres. Tony Lockhart kicks off the OAPSE Making a Difference event at Chambers Elementary in East Cleveland this in May. Each student received a tote bag full of food from a member of OAPSE. The OMAD project raised more than $25,000 to help curb hunger in the school district.

Children should never have to go to school hungry, but sometimes they do. That’s why members of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE)/AFSCME Local 4 decided to take matters into their own hands. Thousands of children and their parents are thankful they did.

They did it by creating a charitable organization called OAPSE Making a Difference, Inc. (OMAD), founded in 2014 with the goal of reducing hunger for students served by members of OAPSE, including employees of public and private schools.

It all started with a desire to do something, as union members, to make their communities better, said Barb Ward, a member of the OAPSE Executive Board. Noting how unions are sometimes portrayed negatively by the media, she said members decided to change that perception by improving the lives of the students they serve every day.

Their inspiration came from an “AFSCME in Action” project during the AFSCME Women’s Conference in Denver in 2013. Hundreds of attendees volunteered to pick up trash, sweep, rake, paint and remove graffiti from local buildings in several neighborhoods, in conjunction with community organizations.

“We brought that idea back home,” said Ward. Soon, the OAPSE/AFSCME State Executive Board approved OMAD, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. Their first project, in 2014, was dubbed “Read, Feed and Weed.” It raised more than $13,500 – and thousands more in donations of food and books – to help students of Columbus Public Schools, one of the poorest school districts in Ohio.

“We know that hungry children are not at their best and cannot learn to their full potential, yet many of our students come to school hungry every day,” said Ward, who has driven a school bus for special needs children for the Fairland Local Schools in Proctorville for 36 years. “We wanted to help as many of our kids as we could with volunteer hours and donations – and OMAD is the result.”

OAPSE members provided take-home meals and tote bags to approximately 2,000 students at select elementary schools in the Columbus district. They also worked with a vendor to provide books to each student. At severely understaffed schools, they even cleaned, mulched and pulled weeds.

OAPSE members never quit giving back to their communities, even in years when they’re not getting together through a conference to conduct volunteer projects. That was the case last year, when they worked with Lawrence County to create a permanent food bank at Fairland Local Schools, where OAPSE Local 345 members work.

OAPSE leaders “contacted me and asked what our school needed,” said Ward, a Local 345 member. She worked with Superintendent Roni Hayes and members of her local to come up with a plan. For Ward, it was obvious. “Every day I see kids on my bus that go home hungry,” she said. “I always keep snack crackers and stuff to give them when they go out the door. I know they’re not going to have anything until they come back the next day.”

A food pantry was the answer. “We contacted suppliers all over the state to see who would give us the best deal on nutritious food, and something they could open and eat themselves, not something that the parents had to prepare, and not junk food,” she said.

OAPSE members unloaded two food trucks and packed cloth food bags labeled “OAPSE Making a Difference.” Within were two complete meals, distributed by teachers to approximately 1,800 students – from elementary school through high school. Each bag also had a card explaining OAPSE’s mission. The response, Ward said, “was overwhelming.”

“Oh, my goodness – just to see the smiles on their faces,” she said. “They appreciate it, their parents appreciate it.”

Church groups and community organizations like the VFW have made donations to OAPSE Making a Difference “so we can keep this going,” said Ward. “This is a permanent thing.”

OMAD continues to spread food and cheer throughout the state. Last year, holiday gifts were provided to the child of an OAPSE school bus driver killed while saving one of her students from a moving bus. This May, participants in the 2016 OAPSE Conference joined OAPSE Local 181 members to pack and deliver tote bags filled with non-perishable food to 1,500 elementary and middle school students in five East Cleveland City Schools. They also donated 900 gift cards to purchase sandwiches from a local Subway that provided the cards to OMAD at a reduced rate.

Since the spring of 2014, OMAD has raised more than $50,000 from union leaders, members, staff, OAPSE and vendors. That includes more than $27,000 donated for the East Cleveland project. In June, the school district board thanked OAPSE with a resolution.

While such resolutions are welcome by Ward and the other members of OAPSE, the good feeling she gets from giving back to her community is much more personal. “It means the world to me,” she explained. “I love the kids. Once they get on my bus, they’re my kids. If those kids aren’t eating, they can’t learn. I’ll donate (through OMAD) every year, as long as I’m able to.”

Celebrating the kick-off of the OAPSE Local 345 Food Pantry Celebrating the kick-off of the OAPSE Local 345 Food Pantry are (bottom left to right) Local 345 Vice Pres. Jill Turner, Northeast District President and Executive Board Alternate Davida Russell, State PEOPLE Chair and Southeast Executive Board Member Barb Ward, State Pres. JoAnn Johntony and State Sec. Sandy Wheeler. (Top left to right) Exec. Dir. Joe Rugola (also an AFSCME International vice president), Fairland Superintendent Roni Hayes and former Southeast Executive Board Alternate Zat Salmons. (Photos by OAPSE)

Related Posts