Extreme couponing, for a cause

The kitchen of a local food bank looked like a scene from TLC’s “Extreme Couponing.” Eight people gathered around a counter on a recent Wednesday evening, surrounded by thousands of cost-cutting slips of paper in neatly organized piles, cheerfully working together to benefit Toledo-area cancer patients and their families.

“I do not buy [groceries] unless I have a coupon,” said Lisa Kronbach-Eisenbach, founder and director of Nightingale’s Harvest, proudly displaying a grocery receipt from March. “So far this year we’ve saved more than $9,000!”

Within minutes of being greeted with Kronbach-Eisenbach’s warm hug, visitors to the Nightingale’s Harvest kitchen can see how the not-for-profit’s success over the past 2 years is a reflection of her  vivacious energy and can-do perspective.

The Inspiration
The licensed practical nurse of 27 years and mother of two speaks in exclamation points whenever she shares the story of how she started the food bank, named in honor of the nursing profession she and her husband share, in May 2011 after watching her best friend fight colon cancer.

While working in a physician’s office, Kronbach-Eisenbach saw patients in various stages of cancer on a daily basis, but said it hit her like a ton of bricks on a November day in 2010 when she received the call from Kim Mardini-Channer that she had been diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. That day, Kronbach-Eisenbach left her job, created an 18-month plan with her husband, and began the full-time role as Mardini-Channer’s caretaker.

During the next 18 months, Kronbach-Eisenbach experienced the emotional and financial struggle many cancer families endure when their primary bread-winner is not working while undergoing expensive medical treatment, and the resources at hand can only stretch far enough to  pay for a portion of the family’s expenses.

“I started couponing like an old crazy lady,” Kronbach-Eisenbach said with a laugh, adding that Mardini-Channer soon encouraged her to use her tenacious spirit to help other families.

In the span of three months, she had taken 18 families under her wing. Once they became a government-recognized not-for-profit, Nightingale’s Harvest took up residence in office space provided by Savage & Associates. They soon outgrew that space and moved to what now is their home at St. James Lutheran Church, 4727 Sylvania Ave.

“I promised Kim that I would get the community to understand that without these tools they just can’t do it,” Kronbach-Eisenbach said. “The amount of stress just from the overwhelming diagnosis and shock, then going through treatment — I don’t care how much money you have, you need help.”

Lending a hand
Nightingale’s Harvest provides food, toiletries, hygiene items and other needs that are not covered by Medicaid and other government programs. At this time, they are funded strictly by donations — both monetary and in-kind  physical goods — and have received approximately $33,000 in local and national grants.

Students from the University of Toledo, Bowling Green State University, and the University of Iowa have participated in different service projects, and other members of the community continue to surprise Kronbach-Eisenbach and her board with their generosity and support.

Since its inception, Nightingale’s Harvest has served more than 450 families, and patients of all ages, affected by all types of cancer. Families must be referred  to the food bank by a health care provider to receive assistance.

“I feel like the community has taken on the role of what the mission is all about,” Kronbach-Eisenbach said. “This has been amazing and all I can tell you is it’s been a God thing.”

Her goal over the next five years is to become a template so other communities can get help in creating their own version of Nightingale’s Harvest.
The Toledo native and 1980 Notre Dame Academy graduate is so humble she seamlessly avoids answering any questions about herself, but the other founding members of Nightingale’s Harvest are quick to extol their spunky leader.

“[Lisa] doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” said Wava Smedlund, Mardini-Channer’s older sister. “She’s got big ideas and she doesn’t stop at anything until she hits her goal.”

Kim Mardini-Channer died on May 29, 2012, leaving her children Sam, 27, Andrea, 25, Abby, 12,  and Logan, 10, and her husband Brennan to help Kronbach-Eisenbach fulfill the soul sisters’ mission.

As a mother herself — to Matthew, 24, and Jessy-Lynn, 22— Kronbach-Eisenbach said she is especially horrified by statistics released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture after the 2010 census that show one in three children are at risk of hunger due to poverty.

“You can’t let a cancer family go hungry, go without tools,” Kronbach-Eisenbach said. “Our biggest goal is to encourage and inspire cancer families to accept the assistance and not feel like they are getting a hand out.”

for more information, visit nightingales-harvest.org or call 419-725-1190.