Columbiana Co. woman bakes for survival



Karen Tohm used to love baking pies and cakes for her family.

Now that baking is her only means of survival, she can barely stand it.

“It’s work now … and I don’t like it,” Tohm said.

Every Friday, the 46-year-old drives 17 miles from her home in Lisbon to the flea market at Rogers Community Auction, where she sells an assortment of items, including pound cakes, banana-nut bread, and apple, pecan and peach pies.

She leaves home at 6 a.m. and arrives by 8 a.m. to set up her booth in Rogers. By 5 p.m., she will have sold everything she brought. Anything left over, she will donate or sell at a community auction. She will have made $100.

She will stop for gas and fast food before heading home, a basement apartment provided by her aunt and uncle, the Revs. Raymond and Phyllis Tohm, both of whom are pastors at Threshing Floor Ministries in Lisbon.

“I usually make about $400 to $500 a month. It’s been less lately due to gas prices,” Tohm said.

She spends about $200 a month for baking supplies, $60 for van insurance and $50 for rent.

“That usually leaves me with $190 dollars for my dog’s food, shampoo and my cellphone bill,” she said. She can’t afford health insurance and receives government assistance.

Tohm used to be married and has three children. After a battle with crack cocaine and a back injury, however, she hit rock bottom. Her injury, due to a fall, worsened after incorrectly lifting while doing yard work, leaving her with three bulging discs.

“The doctor said they were not bad enough to operate on, but they were bad enough to give me injections to take down swelling and inflammation,” she said.

The relief was temporary.

“I went into a depression and dabbled in drugs when my husband left me. ... My children disowned me after that,” Tohm said. “I wanted to kill myself but didn’t have the guts to pull the trigger.”

Tohm previously worked at Astro Shapes in Struthers and at Black Hawk Automotive Plastics in Salem but found the required time of standing for eight hours difficult after her injury.

Her aunt and uncle took her in.

“I lived in my car for six months, and before that I lived in a tent at a campground for three months,” she said.

Raymond Tohm said his niece was appearing before a judge in Warren regarding her drug use when he and his wife arrived at the courthouse.

Phyllis Tohm said Karen’s drug problem had escalated and she was in and out of shelters.

Each day is a fight for Tohm. She’ll be four years sober in February.

“I got off the drugs by the grace of God. I tried myself and couldn’t do it,” Tohm said. “He gets all the credit.” is a collaboration among the Youngstown State University journalism program, Kent State University, University of Akron and professional media outlets including WYSU-FM Radio, The Vindicator, The Beacon Journal and Rubber City Radio (Akron).

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