Food truck helps visually impaired

052417...R FOOD TRUCK 3...Bazetta...05-24-17...Jeff Stosik of Warren and his Casino Cafe food R. Michael Semple

BAZETTA — Jeff Stosik knows first-hand the difference having the right tool can make for someone who is visually impaired.

Stosik, 63, of Howland, was born with Kalnienk vision, also known as tunnel vision, or the loss of peripheral vision.

“I’ve learned a lot over the years about coping and things you can do sometimes to make life, your situation or circumstance, easier and better,” he said. “I want to use as much of that knowledge as I can to help people as much as I can.”

For example, the right magnifier “can mean the world” to someone with impaired vision, Stosik said.

“It can be a big help, make a world of difference,” he added.

However, a magnifier can cost anywhere from $100 to $5,000, depending on the type.

But Stosik has come up with a way to use his food service and business skills to raise money to buy items, including magnifiers, and provide services many visually impaired people need, but can’t afford.

Restaurant on wheels

About four months ago, after receiving what he describes as a “generous donation” from an anonymous donor late last year, Stosik’s charity bought a food truck. The restaurant on wheels, the Casino Cafe, went into operation about six weeks ago, selling sandwiches, subs and gyros several days a week while stationed in the Menard’s parking lot along Elm Road in Bazetta. The truck is owned and operated by the Foundation for the Visually Impaired Corp. that Stosik formed in 2001. The charity is registered as a 501(c)(3), according to Ohio attorney general’s office records. Donations to the foundation are tax deductible.

Proceeds from the food truck go to the foundation, said Stosik, who runs the operation with the help of two volunteers.

“None of us are paid,” Stosik said. “We volunteer, that’s what we want to do. We believe in what we’re doing.”

Stosik said he conducted small fundraisers, always trying to “think outside the box,” for years after establishing the foundation.

“When you give money for charity often you give money and that’s the end of it,” he said. “I’m not asking you for your money, for you to donate it to this cause or that cause. We’re asking you to buy some food, a meal, from our truck and realize the proceeds are going to help people. This way, at least, we’re providing a service and you’re getting something out of it.”

Stosik said he’s had offers to set up shop in other areas of the Valley and is looking to move the truck to other locations to generate more business and get the word out. He plans to provide updates about the business, which also offers catering services, and the location of the food truck each day on Facebook.

“I’ve known Jeff a couple of years and when he started talking about getting a trailer, he was concerned because he can’t drive,” said Marc Thompson, 61, of Howland. “So, I said I’d drive for him.”

Thompson, who ran his own business as a roofing contractor, is retired. He started helping Stosik about six weeks ago.

“I went though some tough times myself and I got help from places I never thought I would,” he said. “I’m retired now and this is a small role to play, helping him with the truck, but it’s an opportunity to do something positive, something meaningful to help Jeff and the people he helps.

“I’ve seen Jeff’s due diligence over last two years. A guy with his own handicap. Yet he does more than some people who are more able-bodied.”

A vision to help

Stosik, a 1972 graduate of Howland High School, has amassed more than 25 years experience in food service. In 1993, as a client of the state’s Rehabilitation Services Commission, he completed a food service program that taught him how to manage food service facilities. Early on, he ran a snack bar in the basement of the Trumbull County Administration Building for about a year. But he learned a lot of what he knows about food service by operating beach concessions and running hot dog and ice cream carts on the streets of New York City in the 1980s after graduating from Kent State University.

But he always had a vision to help, he said. By 2001, he knew he wanted to form a charity to assist others “with conditions similar to his” or those “even worse off.”

His goal is to raise money so his foundation can continue supporting groups and organizations that serve blind or visually impaired individuals.

“There are great organizations that already have a client base and they already provide services,” Stosik explained. “I try to help them, but I also try to help individuals when I learn they need something. There are a lot of people with some form of vision impairment who need help.”

Some 14 million Americans, 12 or older, reported having visual impairment defined as distance visual acuity of 20/50 or worse, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Approximately 8.2 percent of Americans with self-reported vision problems have said they have no health insurance, the CDC reported.

In Ohio, 271,700 people were reported to have a visual disability in 2014, according to the National Federation of the Blind.

Stosik, who also spent some time at the Cleveland Sight Center, said his vision has gotten worse recently and his visual field is now less than five degrees.

Even so, he said, he has seen a lot of people worse off than he is.

“I saw, through my training experiences and working with people, what being totally visually impaired can be and what you have to do to get through, to cope, to adjust, to live your life,” he said. “I’m thankful for what I have.

“Whatever knowledge you’ve got, whatever money you’ve got, you can’t take it with you. The older you get, the more you realize that. It’s better to pass it on while you can.”