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Pandemic Perseverance: Addressing increased food need in Slavic Village

Amanda Miller working at the Hunger Center at University Settlement in Slavic Village in Spring 2021. [Amanda Miller]
Amanda Miller working at the Hunger Center at University Settlement in Slavic Village in Spring 2021. [Amanda Miller]

One of the biggest struggles during the pandemic has been food insecurity, especially in the early days. The Greater Cleveland Food Bank says one third the people who sought emergency food assistance from March to December 2020 were first time clients.

In Ideastream Public Media’s new Pandemic Perseverance series, part of our Coping with COVID-19 reporting initiative, Slavic Village residents share their memories of the struggle to deal with the pandemic, and the hope that carried them through.

One Slavic Village resident, Amanda Miller, who previously worked at University Settlement's Hunger Center, describes the fear and uncertainty as the pandemic grew.

More families need food

My name is Amanda Miller. I just started working at University Settlement, I would say five years ago, almost six years ago for my internship, which turned into the adult wellness program, and then I started working in the Hunger Center.

Before the pandemic, it was a lot of people in the building. It was 20 to 30 families in the lobby before we even opened. And then it kind of... when the pandemic hit, it was just craziness. Like nobody knew what to do, everybody was worried that they weren't going to get food.

So we got bombarded when we first closed down, and we started doing everything outside in the back driveway, which was chaos and a lot. There was a lot of emotions, negative emotions, like people were very... I don't want to say greedy, but scared.

It almost just turned into, like, a mentality of, 'I have to get everything for me, and I don't care about anybody else' for a little bit in the beginning. And I know people were scared, but they were just rude. They were mean. They cussed me out all the time. There was arguments about masks, and it was just a lot of tension for the first few months.

Turning the corner

I would say by fall, it kind of got better and everybody was more like, 'This is it. This is what we have to do now.' But we later adjusted to how we needed to do things, and we got a service going where people were coming in the front door and still accessing our food.

And we saw the highs and lows throughout the pandemic with like stimulus checks. We knew when people got checks because they weren't coming. But then all the threats of, like, unemployment's going to run out and this is going to run out. It just kind of put everybody in a tizzy, honestly. So it was a lot of chaos, but we finally got through it, I feel like.

So now we're doing more structured indoor services with less people. Our big thing is having a choice pantry and not telling people what to feed their family and letting them pick what they feed their family. So we've gone back to that.

Amanda Miller worked at the Hunger Center at the nonprofit University Settlement in Cleveland's Slavic Village neighborhood in the early days of the pandemic. [Amanda Miller] Reflecting on the Chaos

I think there was a lot of panic around, 'How are the kids going to get fed? How are families going to get fed? How is anybody going to be taken care of in the next God-knows-how-long-time until we're out of quarantine?' And my biggest thing was how quickly the government and the corporations and the nonprofits had everything for everybody. I was almost shocked. There were more kids being fed out of school than there were in school. There was so much stuff.

You know how you almost sit there and think like the government has the money, they just don't want to help? It really showed, like, we do have the money and we can help. And I hope that's something that continues on in the future. Or we use these funds for things that people need and not just , you know, tanks and missiles and things like that.

Community Came Together

But I did notice, like, the camaraderie of the neighborhood. People came together and people helped. We have a proxy system over there where you can pick up for people, and it got to the point where we were like, 'Just send anybody, we'll give them your food.' And people were picking up for four or five families at a time. And that wouldn't have happened without the pandemic, like, people wouldn't have came out and helped more.

The amount of volunteers we had, even though we couldn't have them onsite, we had so many people who wanted to volunteer. [University Settlement Executive Director] Earl [Pike] had set up donations on Facebook. We had so much food from that. So it was like while we were waiting for the whole world to crash, it almost got better.


Reporting for this project was done by freelance reporter Rachel Dissell in collaboration with Slavic Village residents Sharon Irby, Nicole Abraham and Pamela Shelley. It was edited and produced by Ideastream Public Media Coordinating Producer Rachel Rood.

Rachel is the supervising producer for Ideastream Public Media’s morning public affairs show, the “Sound of Ideas.”