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Ohio medical recruiters join community partner to provide free lunches for Akron students

By Sgt. 1st Class Todd Fitzwater Cleveland Medical Recruiting Station

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Two Army recruiters assigned to the 3rd Medical Recruiting Battalion joined a local community partner and business owner to provide a supplemental lunch program to Akron, Ohio, students between the ages of 1 and 18 recently.

Sgt. 1st Class Todd Fitzwater, health care recruiter, Cleveland Medical Recruiting Station, and Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Knowles, station commander, Akron Medical Recruiting Station, received a request from Angelo Gonzalez III, community partner and owner of “YOUR” Pizza Shop in Akron, Ohio, for assistance in setting up a program for students affected by school closures.

Growing up, Gonzalez relied on the meals the school provided and doesn’t know how he would have eaten daily if the school lunch program had not been available. The lunch assistance helps offset the Akron Publics Schools' Nutrition Program, which has remained open during school closures to feed area students. Understanding that not all students can make it to the hours the schools are open for grab-and-go, Gonzalez wanted to ensure there were still meal options available to them.

Fitzwater and Knowles readily agreed to help, as their operational backgrounds and extensive social networks and community partnerships made them a natural fit for this community service initiative. The team developed a plan and put it into action within two days. They began distributing lunches March 17.

“I am fortunate to work for an organization that allows and expects me to be a part of the community in which I support through various community programs and initiatives,” Fitzwater said. “The Army is a values based organization, and it’s a privilege to be able to lead and fill needs within this great community.”

The initiative operates outside normal “YOUR” Pizza Shop-Akron business hours. The first day the team began prepping at 5:00 a.m. and provided lunches to 250 students.  Fitzwater and Knowles bring the Army mindset to the operation and conduct after action reviews daily, which has allowed for processing and distribution to become more efficient. After assessing their efforts, it was evident that more lunches were needed, so the team expanded the number of lunches to feed 500 students the next day.  On March 19, the team serviced 750 students, and on March 20, they distributed over 500 brown bag lunches.

Everyone involved has taken their own temperature daily, washed their hands frequently, used hand sanitizer, worn gloves when processing food and distributing, and has practiced social distancing as much as possible.  Safety and following a set protocol has been essential.  

Over 2,000 students were fed between March 17 and 20 because one community member saw a need. Not only is the team distributing food, but help and smiles to the students of Akron, Ohio. Thanks to the generosity of the community businesses and individuals, enough monetary donations have come in to sustain this initiative for another two weeks.

Fitzwater and Knowles plan to continue supporting this effort. Their command team, Capt. Ashely Delos Reyes and 1st Sgt. Justin Waynick, Columbus Medical Recruiting Company, has offered their assistance as well.

“We must lead by example and practice our Army Values daily, we wear the cloth of the nation and with that comes great responsibility in and out of the uniform,” Knowles said.