Woodmere Councilman Tennyson Adams unpacks a box of sanitizing wipes during the biweekly food box drive-thru at the village Service Department. He is part of Councilwoman Vivian Walker’s group of volunteers, who distribute food boxes to people in need, especially seniors.

Woodmere Councilwoman Vivian Walker has always looked for ways to give back to the community. In her job as a certified chemical dependency counselor, she worked to help people in need. As an elected official for the village, Ms. Walker is constantly working to help the residents of the village, especially seniors. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she has teamed up with other villagers to distribute food boxes to anyone who could use a helping hand.

Twice a month, the village hosts a drive-thru at the Woodmere Service Department on Maplecrest Road for families to pick up boxes of food. People must be registered to pick up a box, but they do not need to be a resident of Woodmere. The program is sponsored by the Hunger Network, which received $500,000 in funding from Cuyahoga County to purchase the boxes from The Sanson Company, a food distribution group. Each registered person may pick up one box at the drive-thru, which includes items such as eggs, milk, cheese, butter, grapes, onions, apples and potatoes.

“I’ve always been a person who sees a need, and I have a love for seniors,” Ms. Walker, 74, said. “I realized there are seniors who can’t get out and I see what they need. Some have kids, but some have no one to shop for them. They’ve been here forever and it’s time to give back to the community. I felt like it needed to be done.”

Some communities, like Woodmere, do not have a senior center. Without a designated gathering place for senior citizens, Ms. Walker said sometimes seniors may feel lonely or neglected.

“You need to have something to make them feel secure and loved,” she said.

Though the drive-thru is not for one group, many who use the service are aging residents. When people come to pick up their food, there is an opportunity for communication and socialization. People drive up and open their trunk, then a volunteer places the box in their car. The driver may stay and chat for a bit with the volunteers and they develop a friendship.

Although Ms. Walker coordinates the effort, she has a dedicated team of volunteers who help her with the biweekly distribution, including Councilman Waymond Scott, Councilman Tennyson Adams, his wife Deborah, and Myrdis Lindsey, wife of Councilman Hilman Lindsey. Woodmere Mayor Ben Holbert and his wife, Joyce, join the group as well.

No matter what other plans he may have, Mayor Holbert delivers food boxes to six residents in Woodmere who are stuck at home due to their age or disabilities. They all enjoy visitors, so he stays to chat with each resident for a little while. The residents are especially pleased to see the mayor arrive in a suit.

Food and Nutrition Manager for the Hunger Network Erin Ogden said there are 105 registered individuals for the Woodmere drive-thru location and each box costs $23.50. Including Woodmere, there are 22 locations throughout Cuyahoga County to pick up food boxes. This program began in February.

“It’s a continued response to the ongoing pandemic,” Ms. Ogden said. “Hunger Network is a network of 74 food pantries and hot meal sites. The numbers there have been increasing.”

This is not Ms. Walker’s first initiative to distribute food and supplies in the community. Before the COVID-19 began, she partnered with the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging and the National Guard to distribute hot meals and boxes with non-perishable foods such as spaghetti sauce, cereal, macaroni and rice. There was also a one-time delivery of a box with paper products, masks and sanitizer when the pandemic began.

Ms. Walker started with a list of registered voters, which included each person’s age, so she could find seniors in need of assistance. Mayor Holbert also gave her names of people who may be interested in the food box program, and people began to refer their friends. When Ms. Walker explained to people that there is no “gimmick,” they signed up.

“It benefits the community immensely. It gives seniors an opportunity to sit at home and have the store come to them,” said Mr. Scott, who delivers the boxes to community members. “It’s good because we can interact, and they can tell us what they need and we can give a helping hand. It’s a very beneficial and useful tool to have conversations with the community.”

Mr. Adams also fills up his car for deliveries when people cannot make it to the drive-thru. He said it is helpful to talk with the residents upon delivery and hear about their concerns.

“You’re getting a chance to talk with a lot of the residents. You get to know people and you get to know the village,” Mr. Adams said. “It seems like everyone has something different they are concerned about, but it gives you some information you need about the village you might not normally get.”

The Hunger Network accepts donations to continue their mission of providing emergency food supplies and offering hot meals to people in need. Their website is hungernetwork.org.

“I’m happy we’re doing it during the pandemic,” Mrs. Adams said. “It’s a positive for our community.”

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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