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Area Food Pantry Dodges Snow Drifts and Fiscal Cliffs

John Visnauskas makes a delivery
John Visnauskas makes a delivery

All Faiths PantryWhile offices around Northeast Ohio were releasing employees earlier this week, in advance of the snowstorm, John Visnauskas was just getting started on his Wednesday workload. As the first few flakes of the blizzard started falling from the sky, he was loading paper bags of groceries in the back of his SUV, and delivering them to people like 80Something Anna Bordun

JOHN VISNAUSKAS: Anna? Merry Christmas (kiss).

For the past twelve years, John Visnauskas has been operating a food pantry on wheels. Whereas the typical food kitchen is a place where a lower income people go to get basic provisions, Visnauskas was a Northeast Ohio pioneer in taking food to people who have problems leaving home.

ANNA BORDUN: I opened the door and I got worried --- nobody’s going to come out in this kind of weather.

Visnauskas calls his operation All Faiths Pantry, and he’s built it up to a service with 25 volunteer teams who deliver food, once a month, to 400 clients scattered across Southwest Cleveland and the adjoining suburbs.

SOUND: Bye-bye

Visnauskas says he’s long had an entrepreneurial spirit, trying numerous ventures that didn’t quite suit him. At one point, he sold clothing that he designed. For a while, he even tried his hand at selling jewelry. But, it wasn’t until he paid a visit to the Cleveland Food Bank in 1999 that he discovered his calling.

JOHN VISNAUSKAS: [car keys jingling] I say that the lady I bring a bag a beans to is always happier than the lady I bring a diamond necklace to.

With the help of the Food Bank, he set-up shop in a house on the west side of Cleveland, where a former garage is now a warehouse, filled with food, ranging from cans of vegetables, and jars of peanut butter, to whole grain bread, apples and potatoes. Over the dozen years he’s been doing this, he’s seen the need for food expand from the inner city to the suburbs. Like many non-profits, he’s a little nervous about what will happen next year as the federal government approaches the fabled fiscal cliff.

JOHN VISNAUSKAS: Who knows, maybe they’ll cut-out food stamps and emergency food programs.

But, if that happens, Visnauskas says he’ll just figure another way to get food out to people like 61-year-old Chapelle Letman, a former painter who lost his eyesight 20 years ago. Undaunted, he turned his artistic ambitions towards sculpture. There are numerous works-in-progress on display around his Old Brooklyn apartment.

SOUND rustle grocery bags

For Letman, Visnauskas is a lifeline.

CHAPELLE LETMAN: I wish we had more people like him out there. He’s consistent, you know? People do things when it is convenient for them. It’s surprising when people go out of their way and are concerned with people eating.

JOHN VISNAUSKAS: Oh, they’re out there. It’s just that the bad people get all the press. Mostly people are good people, mostly people are helpful and cooperative and all that. We all just do our little bit

CHAPELLE LETMAN: Yeah, we all do. Try to. Is it snowing out there?

JOHN VISNAUSKAS: It’s snowing hard .

And there are a lot more stops to make

SOUND: Windshield wipers.

John Visnauskas says, when he first started doing this work, and was making these deliveries all by himself, it could get depressing visiting people who have so many challenges in their lives. Now, with a crew of volunteers to back him up, he’s gotten a bigger perspective on the people served by All Faiths Pantry.

JOHN VISNAUSKAS: Even though it’s just five minutes or ten minutes at the most that you spend with these clients once a month, wait till they pass away. You will realize how attached you get to these people. And what a change in spiritual energy it is to feed someone.

David C. Barnett was a senior arts & culture reporter for Ideastream Public Media. He retired in October 2022.