Local resident starts programs to help children of Lake County
Mike Zuren, alongside Anne Falkenberg, volunteering for the free lunch program.
By Donna L. Robinson
Michael Zuren has been a dedicated corporate trainer, senior loan officer, and currently Lake County’s treasurer, but his passion for community involvement and helping Lake County children in need is what really drives him.
“I started community events and outreach for families and children when I was elected councilman in Eastlake in January 2016. We started the ‘Best Christmas Ever’ program where we bring Santa and a Christmas celebration to a local family. We usually have 25 to 35 residents go with us Christmas morning to surprise the family. The event is magical. Every person involved walks away filled with the spirit of the Christmas season,” says Zuren.
When COVID-19 shut down schools in March 2020, hundreds of local children faced not having a daily nutritious lunch. Zuren immediately went into action and along with Willow Praise Church in Eastlake and the Eastlake Women’s Club started the Free Kids Lunch Program where local families could drive thru and receive free lunches for the children.
“We were very concerned that the children on free and reduced lunches would not have anything to eat because the schools shut down so abruptly. We partnered with over 80 local restaurants and businesses and to date have handed out over 23,100 lunches to children in Eastlake, Painesville and Willowick,” he says.
During the summer months of both 2020 and 2021, the program partnered with the Greater Cleveland Food Bank where Zuren was the site supervisor and handled all reporting and food orders.
In January 2021, Zuren started the Lake County Special Needs Birthday Club so that children with special needs and/or medical issues could have a special birthday celebration.
“We have celebrated about 35 free birthdays so far and we have even held numerous birthday parades for veterans,” adds Zuren. “Donations collected are used to help to pay for balloons, presents, cakes, etc. It’s a small budget since most items are donated by residents and through restaurant fundraisers.”
A memory Zuren says he will never forget was at a local event. “In Painesville last year we distributed about 100 pairs of tennis shoes to local children. I asked the kids their shoe sizes and most just took off their shoes to verify the size, but when three of the children took off their shoes they had huge holes in the bottom. It immediately hit me that children in Lake County were walking to school when it was raining and snowing, and when they got to school they had wet socks from the holes in their shoes. I really felt bad about that.”
Zuren learned that roughly 30 percent of Lake County students do not wear underwear or socks to school because their parents choose to save money and not buy these essentials. So, during two of the free kids lunch distributions, packages of socks and underwear were handed out to all the children.
Zuren says he and his dedicated group of volunteers and partners have added other fun activities or supplied other necessities during the free lunch distributions. “We distribute Easter baskets just before Easter, backpacks just before school starts (partnership with Salvation Army), presents for kids during Christmas in July and in December (with Century 21 Asa Cox Homes), and Super Hero Day with Heroes United who are a group of about 12 adults that dress up like super heroes.”
Recently, Zuren was honored to receive the 2021 Community Engagement Award from the Ohio Ministry Association for recognition for the Free Kids Lunch Program, Lake County Special Needs Birthday Club and for the distribution of backpacks, coats, shoes and underwear.
Zuren commented, “Community support has been amazing, but we still need volunteers and donations. Most people want to help with our programs for the children, but don’t know how to get involved. They can contact me through Facebook or call me at 440-251-5381.”