Food banks large and small in Northeast Ohio are seeing increased activity due to the close of nonessential businesses and schools linked to the state’s efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus. This has prompted food banks to employ new strategies to collect donations and distribute meals to citizens in need.
Rolly Luskin, 75, has volunteered with Bainbridge Food for Friends next to the Bainbridge Fire Department on Chillicothe Road for the past six years, and he said the food pantry has received quite a few more donations and seen plenty of new customers since the crisis started.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has taken action over the past two weeks in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by a novel coronavirus that is sweeping the country. The state-ordered close or reduced hours of businesses has triggered some layoffs putting people in need of food assistance. Restaurants only are permitted to provide take-out or delivery service.
Mr. Luskin said that local institutions like the Chagrin Valley Athletic Club, Kenston High School and Burntwood Tavern have stepped up to the plate to donate their excess ingredients, which have been fresher than the pantry’s usual fare.
“A lot of what we used to give out, before the crisis came, was canned goods,” Mr. Luskin said. “But now we’re getting stuff from restaurants closing, and they’re bringing their fresh produce and chocolate milk and cream and stuff like that.” He said there has also been an uptick in cleaning supplies like laundry detergent, shampoo, deodorant and, of course, toilet paper.
Larger food banks have been affected by the pandemic as well. Greater Cleveland Food Bank Director of Communications Karen Pozna said employees noticed a spike in demand as far back as when school closings were announced on March 12.
Food bank workers took a hard look at their distribution systems to figure out how to ensure everyone received meals. Mrs. Pozna said the food bank’s kitchen provides around 7,000 meals a day for residents of Cleveland and the surrounding area, including meals for the elderly and children.
“We’ve had to adapt those meals to be more grab and go,” Mrs. Pozna said, “like bagged, cold-packed meals, and so we are working with a lot of our after-school programs to deliver meals.” The food bank is working with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to deliver meals to students in subsidized lunch programs.
The Cleveland food bank is able to meet increasing demand in part because of two $50,000 donations, one from Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield and the other from Cleveland Cavaliers center Larry Nance, Jr.
Mr. Luskin explained that Bainbridge Food for Friends, cosponsored by the Bainbridge Civic Club, has also been changing its distribution approach to encourage social distancing. He said they have a sheltered area outside the building where residents are encouraged to place bags of food instead of bringing them directly inside.
He also said the food bank prefers people to call and schedule when they’re coming by for a pickup ahead of time to keep things running smoothly and to give volunteers time to prepare bags of food. Volunteers ask each family how many adults and kids they have so they can adequately prepare what they need.
The Cleveland food bank has been doing its part to limit interpersonal exposure through initiatives like a drive-thru pickup day last week. Customers simply drive up, sign their name on a tablet, pop open their trunks and wait for groceries to be loaded inside.
“We were doing everything to minimize contact,” Mrs. Pozna said. “We were lucky that mother nature cooperated with us for the most part with a beautiful day.” She said that local health care nonprofit CareSource supplied the bank with 30 volunteers and a gift of $75,000, which helped the bank acquire 1,500 emergency food supply boxes for the drive-thru.
The Cleveland food bank put out a call for healthy volunteers at the same time as the Ohio Association of Food Banks petitioned Gov. Mike DeWine to activate the National Guard to help food banks around Ohio. On Monday, about 300 National Guard soldiers were on hand to helpout around the state.
“They will be helping with humanitarian efforts,” Mrs. Pozna said. “I know our VP of operations has been meeting with the National Guard, they’re going to be helping to prepare emergency supply boxes, they’re going to be helping prepare meals in our kitchen. So I know that we are very grateful for the governor to be able to make that happen for us.”
Those interested in donating can drop off donations for Bainbridge Food for Friends at the 17826 Chillicothe Road or direct cash donations to the Bainbridge Area Food for Friends account at PNC Bank in Bainbridge.
Mrs. Pozna said the Cleveland food bank still is looking for donations of shelf-stable food and cleaning products. Visit greaterclevelandfoodbank.org for more information.
“People, this time of year, are more than generous, which is more than nice,” Mr. Luskin said. “It brings tears to your eyes.”