For 17,905 Cuyahoga County residents in 2010, community service was a court-ordered punishment.
For Lakewood’s Jason Weiner, it’s a way of life.
“Between working and volunteering, I would say, all together I average between 50 and 60 hours a week,” said the 40-year-old father of two.
Weiner’s biggest endeavor is a monthly and free produce distribution program he created four years ago, in collaboration with of Lakewood and the Cleveland Food Bank, after noticing Lakewood residents had access to a hot meal only 28 days a month.
“Twenty-eight days might sound like a lot,” he said. “But could you imagine yourself or your children not eating for three days every month?”
After doing what any savvy charity worker would do – emailing his friends for help – the event was created, and Weiner said nearly 300 families walk away each month with fresh produce, and around 125 individuals attend the hot meal.
By day, Weiner is director of development at University Settlement, a non-profit social service agency on Cleveland’s east side. Actually, his entire professional career has been in the non-profit sector, with stints at the Anti-Defamation League, Women’s Community Foundation, AIDS Task Force of Greater Cleveland, Cleveland Foodbank and Cleveland State University, his alma mater.
His volunteer list is equally extensive, with current committee posts at and Trinity Lakewood Community Outreach. He’s also led a community garden, established a fundraising event called for the Trinity Church, registered eligible incarcerated people to vote and helped Lakewood’s West End residents fight eminent domain.
But you’d be wrong if you thought the seeds of charity were sewed in him at an early age.
“I moved to Cleveland when I was 28, and I don’t think I did anything for anybody until I moved here,” he said.
He and his band left Vermont for Cleveland’s storied rock scene in 1998, but he soon found himself volunteering as a patient escort at two women’s reproductive clinics on Shaker Boulevard, shielding women entering the clinic from sometimes-hostile protestors.
“The hardest part was just developing the confidence that, if something’s not there that you think should be there, you can just do it,” he said.
Doing it is one thing, but staying committed is another. Weiner said he finds motivation in how “ordinary” people who attend the meal are, like the guy who got laid off six months ago, or the woman who cried when he offered her a quart of shelf-stable milk in December.
“I firmly believe we’re all just a paycheck away, or a medical crisis away, or a car accident away from being in the same position as the folks that attend our meal,” he said.
(Editor's Note: This article is being featured on Huffington Post as part of its Greatest Person of the Day series.)