Jacques Angelino's Feed & Read Ohio tackles hunger and illiteracy

Some people rescue people. Jacques Angelino rescues food. That’s how the 72-year-old North Clintonville resident described what he does: He salvages items from grocery stores, pantries, food banks and other donors. Then, he loads it into his 2001 Honda Odyssey and finds “homes” for it with people who need it the most.

Two years ago, someone made him aware of an extra shipment of potatoes that was in danger of being wasted in Delaware, Ohio.

“I made five trips up there in one week and I rescued 3,400 pounds of potatoes,” Angelino said. “And I go up there in Northern Lights [in Linden] just north of Save-A-Lot and drop the back of my van and go, ‘Papas Gratis! Free potatoes!’”

Currently studying Spanish with a tutor, Angelino also distributed the potatoes to a predominantly Mexican community in Whitehall.

These actions are par for the course for Angelino, who has been delivering food, clothing, toiletries, books and other items for approximately 16 years. It all started with weekly trips to serve Appalachian communities in Athens County — which he still makes today.

But in 2017, he decided to make his “street ministry” official and emphasize another one of society’s ills: illiteracy. He founded nonprofit Feed and Read Ohio, which now delivers more than 800 pounds of food and 150-200 children’s books per week to Linden, Whitehall, Clintonville and Athens County.

As of April, 16 percent of all Franklin County residents — and one in four children — live in poverty. In neighborhoods like Linden, the rate is even higher. In 2018, the Ohio Department of Education developed a “Plan to Raise Literacy Achievement,” citing a link between poverty and initial literacy exposure.

“The home literacy environment and number of books owned is correlated with socio-economic status of the parent(s),” the report stated. “Without early intervention, the disparities evident in these early years will widen and impact every aspect of a child’s trajectory in language and literacy competency and academic and economic success.”

“I tell people I feed their bodies and then I feed their minds,” said Angelino, a retired special education teacher and nurse. “Kids that are food insecure don't have books in the home. And a lot of them are not tuned into going to the library. Either it’s too far away or their parents aren't literate or it's too strange for them or the neighborhood is too dangerous to be walking to the library. There’s a lot of reasons.”

Parked in South Linden on a recent Saturday afternoon, Angelino set out boxes including bread, apples, nectarines, peanut butter and even pork tenderloin he’d purchased himself. There were also boxes of toothpaste and bottles of hand sanitizer. Two separate containers held children’s books of all levels, some written in Spanish.

“I get them from garage sales,” said Angelino, perched on the edge of the van’s trunk area. “I get some from Half Price Books. I have a lot of people that donate them and people that take them and bring them back so I can re-give them. … It’s kind of become a community.”

That day Angelino also had multiple new backpacks stocked with supplies.

Gradually, people — first-timers and "regulars"; kids and adults — stopped by the van, trading pleasantries and laughs with Angelino as they selected items. He spoke to them in Spanish and French, and taught some of them how to say the names of items in English.

“He makes such a great connection with people,” said Alisa McMahon, a 55-year-old volunteer from North Linden. “It's just fantastic. The don't come necessarily just for the food. They come for him."

Megan Kennedy, 29, heard about Feed & Read Ohio at a Downtown church, where she and her 5-year-old son, Connor, are currently living. After suffering a spinal cord injury and navigating the complexities of the local shelter system, she finally secured a new job.  

“We have food stamps, but it doesn't stretch far enough for us,” she said. “Hopefully, things will get better, but it's a big problem for lots of families [and] lots of single people, too. Single people fall through the cracks.”

Another Linden resident, Tami Blair, 41, received assistance from Angelino when she was caring for her grandkids and some neighborhood children who needed a place to stay. Now, she’s a volunteer.

“He’s God-sent,” Blair said, noting the importance of Angelino providing both books and food. “To get out of this type of environment, you have to work on your brain, you have to read. … They love to read the books. And it's theirs now. They don't have to take it back to the library. They don't have to take it back to the school. The parent doesn’t have to be scared that the child is going to damage the book.”

Angelino said the books are especially helpful for kids who are learning English as their second language. Some adults have even taken the books to help them in their studies.

Volunteer Linda Cox, 64, who calls Angelino’s actions “true social justice,” explained his impact on the Mexican community in her Whitehall trailer park.

“[They] usually are working two or three jobs,” she said. “They're trying to keep their head below the radar of [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. … There's about 110 trailers in the trailer park that I live in. That's helping a lot of people.”

Angelino’s dream is to help even more people by securing a brick and mortar, where he wants to open a reading room and offer cooking classes.

But for now, he will continue rescuing food and, by extension, people in need with his Honda Odyssey, which could use an upgrade.

“I call him my 2001 Space Odyssey,” Angelino said. “It's the rocket ship to literacy.”

To donate to Feed & Read Ohio, visit www.feedandreadohio.org or call 614-439-0245 or 614-888-8052.