Gahanna resident Stephen Garland is expected to help feed an estimated 5,000 hungry children at 43 sites in central Ohio this summer.

Gahanna resident Stephen Garland is expected to help feed an estimated 5,000 hungry children at 43 sites in central Ohio this summer.

That's why the volunteer program director for the Ernest L. Hardy Center, 1743 E. Lakeview Ave., is one of five 2013 Jefferson Award winners.

The annual awards honor the contributions of individuals who fulfill a need for service and help solve community problems.

Garland said he was asked to get involved with the Hardy Center by his pastor, the Rev. James Gaiters, of Grace Apostolic Church.

The mission of the center is to provide inner-city youth and their parents with the tools they need to become more viable within society.

"He wanted to use facilities to help the neighborhood," Garland said. "It started with 23 kids six years ago. Last year we fed 2,500 kids Monday through Friday for 10 weeks during the summer. This year we hope to feed from 5,000- 6,000 kids."

The program is part of the Ohio Department of Education's summer feed program, which is an extension of the school lunch program. Food is provided by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Garland said.

"The purpose is to give them access to the food they would eat at school," he said. "We take out tents to feed kids. We are one of 200 providers in the state of Ohio. Most providers have a smaller number of sites -- five to 20 sites. That's quite a lot of work. We've been blessed to do more. We'll have 43 sites around the city this year."

He said all of the sites are in poverty areas of Columbus, including the South-Western City School District site by Clime Road and some sites bordering Reynoldsburg.

"There are a lot of families in need," he said.

In addition to the ODA, Garland said, food is donated to the center by the Mid-Ohio Foodbank for distribution to adults.

"The young kids come to our various sites because they're hungry," he said. "We feed kids 1 to 18 years old. They have to eat on site. The kids can eat, but the parents can't. We get food from the Mid-Ohio Foodbank to feed the parents."

Garland said the Hardy Center offers programming from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

"We teach life skills," he said. "We have reading and math classes. There's unicycle instruction, chess, computer games, playground games and basketball games."

Grace Apostolic Church provides the center with the ability to pick up about 400 children and transport them home during the summer. When youths are brought to the center, they can count on a meal, Garland said.

"We know they would not eat properly if they didn't come here," he said.

Garland said programming would be expanded to many of the sites, in addition to being at the center.

The remote sites are staffed by current or retired public school teachers.

"We also get help from college or high school students who need community-service hours for graduation," Garland said. "We try to get any help we can get for free."

He credits many businesses for donating to the center's efforts throughout the year.

"Kroger has helped us tremendously," he said. "We get almost-expired baked goods and distribute almost every day. We make sure the kids get it whenever they're here. They leave with a bag of bread and something sweet outside of summer."

Huntington Bank has provided funds to purchase tents and tables to take off site.

"Last year they donated 700 book bags," Garland said. "We had families lined up along the block for the bags. Data Resolution donated their time and expertise for our computer needs."

Germain also has donated computers and monitors, and State Farm Insurance has donated computer equipment as well.

Garland retired from his job as a fifth-generation entrepreneur in his family to focus on the Hardy Center.

"I ran industrial plants in my working life," he said. "I applied that to what I do. It's an honor. I feel honored to be able to do it. There is so much need. To make a dent in it, it's the best thing I can do. I made a lot of money, lost money. I'm broker than I've ever been, but I'm happy. There's nothing I'd rather be doing."

He said he's honored to be a Jefferson Award winner.

"It's an award, in my view, I got from doing what I feel is my reasonable service," Garland said. "I've had a lot of blessing and education in my life. It's a blessing to me to return it."