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Toledo food truck operators plan to feed 1,500 on Thanksgiving

The Blade
The Blade
 22 days ago

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As a toddler and until he was 7, Keith Henry sometimes skipped meals when living with his financially struggling mother in Chicago.

Now, the 32-year-old Toledo food truck owner is spreading the word about 1,500 free Thanksgiving dinners that he plans to serve. On Thanksgiving Day, he’ll be assisted by about 10 area small-business sponsors including other food truck operators and 15 volunteers, mostly friends and family.

"The community has been good to me this year, and ‘I want to say, ‘Thank You,’” said Mr. Henry, owner and operator of O'Henry’s Kitchen on Wheels.

Mr. Henry serves free meals at least four times a year, one every quarter, usually in partnership with a Toledo employment agency, he noted.

“When I was growing up, I didn't always have it. I wouldn’t say I starved, but it was rough. I know the pains and the struggle that some people may be going through,” he said when asked why he decided to do it.

Mr. Henry plans on starting to cook the Thanksgiving meals on Nov. 21. They’ll be served in The Summit banquet hall, 23 North Summit St., in downtown Toledo from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

Jim Rhegness, a project volunteer who also owns and operates a food truck, said Mr. Henry had reached out to the area food truck operators to get them involved.

“What motivated me is that he was going to go it alone, if he had to,” Mr. Rhegness said. “[But] the community is great to food truck operators, and we want to pay back in kind.”

The menu will feature turkey and ham dinners with all the trimmings, all in the soul food tradition. The lineup comes complete with sweet potato pies, pumpkin pies, and a variety of cakes.

The recipes originate from those by Mr. Henry’s grandmother, who taught him how to cook after he moved in with her at age 7, growing up in Chicago and then in Lima, Ohio.

“It was during the holiday season,” Mr. Henry said. “She was in the kitchen, making pound cakes and potato pies for Thanksgiving and [then] Christmas, and I was always right by her side. That's something I jumped into.”

Mr. Henry has lived for 11 years in northwest Ohio. He started off as a food factory worker in McComb, Ohio, rising through the ranks from a laborer to a supervisor. Then about three years ago he decided he wanted to work for himself and “went out and bought a food truck.”

So, in July of 2020, he purchased a brand-new food truck and started his own small business, cooking soul food and taking it to locations all over Toledo. For big events, he hires up to six temporary part-time employees in two shifts of three people on a daily basis.

That happened soon after he started donating meals to the needy in 2019, he said.

“I did a little bit in 2019, but once I started a food truck business, I started doing food donations four times a year. I did it in 2020, and I did it last year too, me and Impact Employment Solutions,” he said of the Toledo-based national employment agency.

Gina McQuade, the agency’s regional vice president, said the organization leaders like partnering with him because “his passion is aligned” with theirs.

“Keith definitely has a passion for helping others, particularly in the Toledo community,” Ms. McQuade said.

He said it was hard to keep his business going during the pandemic, when he often used his wages as a factory worker to invest in his food service business so he could continue donating meals.

The Thanksgiving cooking will be done between his food truck and at the banquet hall’s kitchen.

“As a small business owner donating meals, I appreciate everybody's support,” Mr. Henry said. “Whatever we bring in, we pour it back into the community to try to help uplift the community and try to help build a community back up.”

Mr. Henry suggests that those interested in helping out with the project call him at 567-312-3159.

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