The Bulldog Bags packing on Sept. 24 was one of the most well-staffed ever, as volunteers came out to remember the Stow organization’s co-founder Jan Mather.
Mather died unexpectedly in her sleep on Sept. 18. She was 79.
“As I told everyone at the packing, this is the type of person you want to emulate in your life,” Mayor John Pribonic said. “This is a person that really changed the world, and changed Stow. Ninety-nine percent of kids may never know Jan Mather, but my gosh, she has built something great for them.”
According to Pribonic, there were nearly double the number of regular volunteers that day to pack bags of food for Stow-Munroe Falls students on weekends who experience food insecurity. It was the first packing after Mather’s passing.
Volunteers started the day by watching a promotional video about Bulldog Bags, which Mather was instrumental in creating, and dedicating the day to Mather. Board member Matt Pallo sang an impromptu rendition of “Amazing Grace,” and volunteers were given small trees and were asked to plant them in Mather’s honor.
They also shared one of Mather’s favorite quotes that is also a motto for the group: “If you don’t think there are any good people left in this world, I want you to look to your right, now look to your left. You just saw two really good people.”
“I could feel her spirit being here,” Mather’s co-founder Laura Root said. “None of us recorded it, but she was always challenging us to serve others like she did all the time.”
Mather, of Kent, and Root began thinking about Bulldog Bags, an all-volunteer managed nonprofit that addresses food insecurity in Stow-Munroe Falls City School District, in 2015.
The two women were involved in the emergency food pantry at the United Methodist Church in Stow, when an Echo Hills Elementary School counselor came in asking for a bag of food for a hungry student.
The child’s family had just moved to town from Akron, where for years nonprofit programs have provided children who have access to government breakfast and lunch programs on school days with a few personal groceries to get them through the weekend.
“She asked to pack a bag for this student, and so Jan and I started were talking about this community needing to help kids like that,” Root said. “The next month, the same counselor came in because the kiddo was still complaining about being hungry and that really got us going.”
They started reaching out to local churches and organizations to see if other groups saw a similar need, met with stakeholders and shared their first official Bulldog Bag in January 2016.
“I call her the lifeline, but she was the communication person and was really good with the computer,” Root said. “She set up our Facebook page, did a newsletter, administered our email, and was our reporting and corresponding secretary.”
The group continued to provide meals even during the pandemic.
“She was a tremendous lady and will be an incredible loss to everyone that knew her,” Stow-Munroe Falls Superintendent Tom Bratten said. “She simply made humanity better … What a great friend to the district and a great friend to the city. I can’t tell you the countless students she fed in the district over the years and what she has meant to our kids and our families in Stow and Munroe Falls. She is going to be missed incredibly by our district, our communities, our students and certainly by me.”
“She’s just a beautiful person, always in service, always giving,” Root said. “She looks at a person and finds the good in that person all the time. She knew that life should be fair for all of us and that’s what she worked toward.”
Root said the organization will continue despite the loss of Mather. Several people have already taken up responsibilities and are willing to take on leadership roles.
“We’ll be keeping her in our headlights,” she said.
In addition to working with Bulldog Bags, Mather volunteered with the Retired Senior Volunteer Program in the Medications Assistance Program, and was instrumental in the founding of the Fredericktown High School Alumni Association’s Permanent Endowment to fund scholarships for FHS graduates.
She also was involved in Gamma Phi Beta, the P.E.O. International Sisterhood, the food pantry at the United Methodist Church and the Parrot Head Club of Pittsburgh, according to the eulogy written by her family.
“Jan certainly lived and exemplified that Truth, always doing what she could to reduce pain, hunger and suffering for others,” they wrote. “She was one of those lights that not only shined brightly, but that sparked a light in others. I suggest she was an igniter. And in her legacy, let Jan not only be someone we all admired, but someone who inspired… let us see that her light is not fading now, but that it’s lighting more in each of us – inviting each of us to be a little kinder, to care more, to love more, give more, and of course, to serve more.”
Mather is survived by her husband of 56 years, Bob Mather; daughters Stacia Kaschak (Michael) of Kent and Kristin Caldarella (Anthony) of Sea Bright, New Jersey; her grandchildren, Lydia Grace Kaschak, Thomas James Kaschak and Jake Robert Caldarella; her brother-in-law, George Mather (Kathy) of Salisbury, Maryland; niece, Mary Lynn Mather Stavely; nephews, Christopher and Zachary Mather; great-nephews, great-nieces, and many cousins.
Gifts in memory of Janet Mather can be sent to Bulldog Bags, Inc., P.O. Box 1475, Stow, OH 44224, or to FHS Alumni Scholarship Fund C/O Knox County Community Foundation, 101 E. Gambier St., Mt. Vernon, OH 43050.
Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, [email protected] or on Twitter @KristaKanoABJ.