Little Annie’s Hope Train makes its rounds to help those in need
Annie Felice Kline (right) and Karen Moffett next to a kiosk pantry at the Mentor Headlands Community Center.
By Deanna Adams
Chances are you’ve seen them all over Lake and Geauga counties. Those little outdoor kiosk pantries filled with nonperishable food items, packets of seeds to grow your own food, as well as hygiene supplies—all free for the taking.
The concept for those complimentary pantries with its motto, “Take what you need - leave what you can,” is the brainchild of Mentor resident, Annie Felice Kline, who always felt compelled to make a difference in her community. She is founder and president of the nonprofit charitable organization, “Little Annie's Hope Train,” which she began in 2016, after retiring from her teaching job.
“We supply 19 freestanding pantries that we personally restock every week,” Kline says. “We encourage people to not only take the items they need, but also leave some items for others to use.” The pantries are often located in low-income areas where the residents can best benefit.
Kline also accepts cash donations and every penny donated goes directly to the homeless and others in need in Lake, Geauga, Cuyahoga and Summit counties. “Although we mostly serve our surrounding counties, our true mission is to aid anyone in Ohio who is in need,” Kline adds.
That grand mission extends back a few decades when, as a teen, Kline began thinking about her future. Although she wanted to start college right after high school to become a teacher, Kline was too busy helping raise her younger siblings. She’s the oldest of seven, with four sisters and twin brothers, who are also active in their community. And so, Kline went straight to work as the secretary for the Willoughby Hills police chief for the next 20 years. Meanwhile, in her mid-30s, she set out for that teaching degree by first attending Lakeland Community College, where she earned her associate of arts degree, then moved on to Ursuline College to get BA degrees in both middle childhood education, and history. She then taught language arts for 13 years to 7th and 8th graders at the Horizon Science Academy Cleveland Middle School.
“Because I’ve always felt driven to give back, becoming a teacher was a big part of that dream,” she says. “When I taught, it was important for me have the kids learn for themselves how gratifying it is to make a difference,” she says. “I wanted to teach them to be compassionate so I would take my students to hunger centers to help serve hot meals. Some of my students came from without, as well, but it taught them to give back no matter what your situation is.”
Once she retired, Kline began wondering what else she could accomplish. “You suddenly have more time on your hands and I wanted to make the best of it,” she says. “I felt this was the time to dig deeper. Actually the movie, “The Blind Side,” really elevated that calling. It spoke to me in the sense that the power of giving is the best feeling you can have.”
The pantries, which include paperback books because, after all, being a former teacher, Kline knows the importance of literature, are not the only services she provides. The organization also distributes groceries to local soup kitchens and much more.
Kline focuses on getting survival supplies—meal and hygiene kits—to those living in homeless camps and tent cities. “Many people are struggling and have a hard time reaching out. Some, like war veterans and victims of domestic violence, often have difficulty asking for help so we try and give aid to them while helping them maintain their dignity.” She says two of the most needed items are toilet paper and new adult-sized socks.
She emphasizes that she does not work alone. She has a handful of trusted volunteers and receives help from other local organizations, such as schools, businesses, civic-minded and church organizations, who all strive to bring help, and hope, to others.
“There are people lacking in needs other than food so we collect laundromat and haircut vouchers, and bus passes to issue out to the homeless. And believe me, they appreciate it.” In addition, Little Annie’s Hope Train provides school supplies for students in need, and donates beds for children who don’t have one. “We pride ourselves in being truly grassroots. We are a 501(c)3 organization and have always operated at a deficit.” Working out of her own home, she saves overhead expenses, and adds that they use their personal vehicles, do not claim mileage, and pay for fuel and car insurance out of their own pockets.
Kline herself is no stranger to life challenges, having recently gone into remission from breast cancer. But that has never stopped her from living her full life. She is an avid kayaker, attends a lot of baseball games, and has her own photography business, “Caring Heart Photography,” specializing in portraits, nature scenes and wildlife.
“Going through breast cancer, I’ve become even more grateful for every day. You appreciate all the little things—which are really the big things.”
For more information on how you can help Kline meet constant needs or to find a kiosk nearest you, see her website at www.littleannieshopetrain.com, or her Facebook page under Little Annie’s Hope Train.