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The Greater Cleveland Food Bank Reflects on 40 Years of Volunteers

For a six county area of Northeast Ohio, people who find themselves in need of food know to turn to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, and its affiliates. In 2019, the food bank celebrated 40 years of serving the community. The organization has grown a considerable amount over those past four decades, in part, to address the ever-present problem of hunger.

"Forty years ago, in our first year of business and first year of operation, we distributed one million pounds of food," said Karen Pozna, director of communications for the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. "Last year alone, we distributed over 40 million pounds of food.”

It’s a growth model any business would take pride in – were it not for the fact that we’re talking about a real need here: a need to have basic staples of a meal provided for thousands upon thousands of our neighbors.

"The Greater Cleveland Food Bank works with more than 1,000 partners throughout Northeast Ohio," Pozna said. "These partner programs include food pantries, hot meal sites, school programs, kids programs, and they work together in conjunction to get the food to the people who need it most.”

That need calculates to about one in every six area residents who could be termed ‘food insecure’, meaning they don’t know where that next meal is originating. Or when. It takes an army of people to complete the work that eliminates that insecurity.

"Last year, our volunteer efforts helped to save about $2.2 million," explained Matt Jackson, the volunteer services coordinator for the food bank. "They're able to reinvest into supporting our programing, eliminating the need for us to hire additional forty four full time employees. And there is absolutely no way we can accomplish nearly as much as we do without the support of our volunteer base.”

It might seem logical that the need swells around November and December, but Jackson says that's more perception than truth.

“We’re preparing packing about six to seven thousand meals every day, not just during this busy time of year," Jackson said. "We're doing that in the summer especially. We're doing even a couple thousand meals on top of that.”

Already, the Greater Cleveland Food Bank -- one of 11 such banks statewide, but not the largest -- has requested $2 million in state funding for possible expansion of its ever-more-crowded 15 year old facility. The boost in space would allow for a larger kitchen, meaning these volunteers wouldn't be sorting just outside the kitchen’s entrance as they worked, and employees wouldn’t share desk space with food storage, as some are forced to do.

All told, through 40 years of historic service, through recessions and recoveries, and utilizing untold thousands of volunteers, the food bank remains successful. The sad fact remains that it is still so absolutely necessary.


Rick Jackson is a senior host and producer at Ideastream Public Media. He hosts the "Sound of Ideas" on WKSU and "NewsDepth" on WVIZ.