Feel Good Friday: Paying it forward ... with “Love Tokens”

A local restaurant invites the public to celebrate Valentine's Day by showing "community love."
Published: Feb. 11, 2022 at 4:19 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 11, 2022 at 5:47 PM EST
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - Along busy North Michigan street in downtown Toledo sits the nearly three-year-old Lowrider Cafe. Inside, you’ll find a warm and colorful dining room and a kitchen where everything’s sizzling like a well-oiled machine.

Jacob Estrada is the owner. Before taking on this new venture, he spent almost 11 years working at Cherry Street Mission - the last two as a cook. After opening his restaurant, he found himself running into old friends from the shelter, who inquired if he was willing to provide meals to those in need. Estrada then turned to his wife for help.

“I told Sylvia, you know what, I don’t like giving away leftovers. I don’t like giving the dried-up stuff at the end of the day! We’ve got to figure out how to feed these guys because I know them. I have a relationship with them,” he explained.

Sylvia Harrelson then joined her husband for a brainstorming session, and in October of 2019, they came up with Love Tokens. Anyone can purchase a token for seven dollars, and each one is good for a warm, free meal to a person in need. Once word spread, the idea took off. The couple says some donors buy one token; others have purchased 50 at a time. Since the concept’s inception, Lowrider Cafe has given out more than 400 free meals.

“I’m grateful there’s so many people that think along the lines of Jacob and I in helping the community. Because it’s all about paying it forward. It just melts my heart,” Harrelson said with a smile.

Love Token recipients are asked to visit the cafe after 2 p.m. to allow staff to handle the busy lunch crowd, then they are treated to their meal. Anyone who buys a token is given a colorful paper heart upon which they can leave their names or an inspirational message. All the hearts are then placed on the wall, in the shape of a large heart, that has been growing for years.

“When you lock these doors and walk away, you know you’ve done a good day’s work and people ate whether they paid for their meals, or came in and received a free meal. And that is a very good feeling,” Estrada said.

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