OHgo off and running this holiday season

When some people are burning unused Paid Time Off from work to be with family and friends, the people at OHgo are doubling and sometimes tripling down on their workloads. 

It’s the holiday season and that means OHgo — in addition to its normal mobile food and book pantries — is hitting the streets of Erie and Huron counties to ensure people have what they need to put food on the table at Thanksgiving and gifts and even trees for Christmas. 

OHgo founders Christine Boesch and Kendra Faulkner oversee the distribution of 275 turkeys this year and will serve 472 families. 

“They are purchased and donated fresh from a farm through a local donor,” Faulkner says. “We typically do that giveaway at the Nehemiah Partners Center as a drive-thru or walk-up event,” Faulkner says. 

When it comes to Christmas trees, Faulkner says it varies. 

“We typically do around 70-80 live trees in stands delivered directly to doors,” Faulkner says. “We have online signups a couple of days before delivery for families in need or even families that know someone in need. We also have a team that just knocks on doors if they don’t see a tree.” 

OHgo volunteers are the lifeblood of OHgo.And what’s a holiday dinner without some ham on the table?  

“We will have over 1,000 hams this year and that, again, is spearheaded by a local group that collects donations and fundraises for the hams. We hand those out at (Sandusky High School’s) Strobel Field a few days before Christmas.”  

Then there’s Project Happy, OHgo’s longest-running and most popular program, for both the people they serve and the volunteers who hand out Christmas gifts to the smiling faces of thousands of children. 

“Every Christmas we team up with local schools, businesses, organizations and community members to collect shoeboxes filled with toys, toiletries, snacks and other awesome stuff for our local kids,” Boesch says. “Project Happy will have close to 450 volunteers, from packing to loading trucks and the delivery.” 

Two days before Christmas, those volunteers deliver gifts door-to-door to unsuspecting kids all over Erie and Huron counties. 

“We are on target for close to 4,000 gifts this year with the addition of (nearby cities) Plymouth and Willard,” Faulkner says.

Most prep on holiday programs begin in early October, Faulkner says. 

“We have over 600 volunteers total throughout the season just on the events already mentioned,” Faulkner says. “The turkey and ham giveaways will have close to 20-30 volunteers and Christmas tree delivery is close to 50 people.” 

Christine Boesch and Kendra FaulknerFor Project Happy, OHgo has a variety of outreach to ensure no child is left behind. 

“Presents are delivered door-to-door throughout neighborhoods in Erie County Norwalk, Wakeman, Willard, and Plymouth,” Faulkner says. “We do offer drive-thru’s in all of those locations, as well, so if we are not in the family’s neighborhood, they can access us to a drive-thru location. We have a small drive-thru on Christmas Eve for any families that we missed. We also have a team that goes out to local fast-food restaurants and gas stations where parents might be working and won’t have time to pick up the gifts and we give presents to them.”

Holiday time for OHgo always brings with it more donations and volunteers. 

“Some groups do small fundraisers, other groups have collections,” Faulkner says. “Donations at holiday time look very different, depending on who is heading them up. We have teams of people that help go through the donations and get them placed where they need to be so that our delivery teams can make sure they reach the people they were intended for.” 

Almost every answer from Faulkner and Boesch mentions people and, more specifically, volunteers. They are the lifeblood of OHgo. 

“Our dedicated volunteers mean everything to us,” Boesch says. “There’s too many to mention here, but I’ll spotlight a couple. Jill Gies, Becki Kuns, and Eric Faulkner give more than their time on specific OHgo projects. They go above and beyond to attend to daily tasks like mowing the lawn, cleaning the floors and restroom, feeding the chickens, cooking dinner or lunch for the volunteers, and running errands. We all feel like family and have made OHgo a part of life.”

Eric Faulkner is Kendra’s father, and he’s been involved from the beginning doing just about everything you can think of for OHgo, including planting and taking care of the gardens at the headquarters, to driving the bus for Project Happy. 

Gies has been with OHgo since its inception in 2015, also. An avid volunteer at Huron High School, Gies met Kendra while the young Faulkner was a student. Faulkner later approached Gies about helping with OHgo. Although she enjoys all aspects of OHgo, especially helping those with food insecurities, Project Happy is near and dear to her heart. 
“I loved the idea,” Gies says. “I just bought into it heart and soul. “Honestly, there’s nothing that we do that I don’t love. That one, because we get so many people from the community when you volunteer — and when you see the look on the kids’ faces and the parents’ faces, that’s priceless. And the fact that I love Christmas in general, I just like to give.”

Gies is also inspired by Faulkner and Boesch and their ability to come up with new and fun ways to serve the community. 

“I love their dreams and the ideas that they come up with,” Gies says. “I can’t say enough about it. They constantly have something new. I know they’re working on something else; that’s just how they are. They themselves have good hearts. 
It’s a great organization and I can’t say enough about it. Even just to volunteer there, it’s a welcoming place and we have fun. You might be working really hard, but you’re having fun while you’re working.” 

“Our dedicated volunteers mean everything to us."During the pandemic years, OHgo volunteers didn’t hide in their homes.  

“Most of our volunteers didn’t even step back during crisis, they, instead, stepped up doubly,” Boesch says. “They are the strength behind our services and help us reach a wider community.”

One such example is Becki Kuns, who started volunteering for OHgo when the pandemic hit in 2020. OHgo attracted her because of its ability to help people suffering from food insecurity, which in the United States has surged from 34 million in 2021 to a staggering 44 million in 2022, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

“Years ago when my husband and I first got married we went through a rough time financially, so buying groceries was really tough for us, so OHgo has really tugged at my heart strings for that,” Kuns says. “Since then, things have been better for us and I thought if I can help somebody get a meal, serve somebody, help somebody along the way when life gets tough, why not do that! 

“So I had retired from my job and plugged into OHgo. I feel like I have a purpose there and I really enjoy working with Kendra and Christine and Jill and OHgo.”

A project that’s near and dear to her is the mobile food pantry. Kuns is tasked with filling the bus for each outing. 

“As I fill the bus every other week, I say a prayer that the food gets to who needs it,” Kuns says. “My biggest hope is that more people hear about OHgo. And if there’s a need someone has that’s brought to our attention that we can maybe help them beyond the food, and that has happened to us many times.” 

Kuns also prays donations will continue to pour in so OHgo and its volunteers can provide what’s needed. 

“Sometimes there are shortages with food and you just hope and pray that every time you have food there to fill a bus,” Kuns says.  

In addition to the volunteers, OHgo works with quite a few groups throughout the area, including partnerships with schools, local organizations to help staff pantries and to prep boxes. 

“We work with Family Health Services for our Locker Project,” Faulkner says of their healthy food lockers. “We do have some of the high-rises in downtown Sandusky that we serve food boxes to twice a month, as well, Harborview and Viewpoint, as well as Bayshore and Community Plaza — those are all senior living facilities.”

From November until the end of the year, OHgo will deliver about 
305,000 pounds of food. During the holidays, Faulkner says there are five or six people working full-time hours for OHgo. 

“That’s just prepping and planning for all of the holiday events, and that’s not including the distributions,” Faulkner says. 

When Santa has returned to the North Pole and December turns into January, there’s no time to relax for Boesch, Faulkner and the OHgo crew.
“Once Christmas is over, we resume all events just like normal,” Faulkner says. “In fact, we have an event the Tuesday following Christmas, so there’s not really a break, but we don’t have any extra events added onto our fresh markets and pantry events once we get through Christmas.  

It’s just back to their normal Monday, Wednesday and Friday giveaways, in addition to their first and third Thursday giveaways.

If you would like to join OHgo in its outreach efforts, contact Faulkner and Boesch at [email protected]