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Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank unveils $17.5 million expansion amid increasing food insecurity

Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank CEO Dan Flowers talks to members of the media in the foodbank
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank CEO Dan Flowers talks to members of the media in the new food pantry at the foodbank's Akron campus on Feb. 1, 2024.

Food banks across Northeast Ohio have seen a sharp increase in people experiencing food insecurity in recent years, due to inflation and the end of expanded food benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Thursday, the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank unveiled new renovations and an expansion to its main facility in Akron that officials hope will help meet the growing needs.

“We are thrilled to cut the ribbon on this space today, to conclude the $17.5 million investment in our region’s fight against food insecurity, and to open the door to a new era in our work. This is a big one, folks,” CEO Dan Flowers said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The event was held in the food bank’s new distribution dock, one of the expansion projects. Additionally, the food bank added more storage capacity, offices and community meeting rooms and, for the first time ever at the Akron campus, an on-site food pantry.

“The idea now is, people can come from the community to get food here,” Flowers said.

Foodbank leaders,
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Food bank leaders, community partners and major donors celebrate after officially cutting the ribbon at Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank's expanded facility in Akron on Feb. 1, 2024. From L to R: Foodbank Board Chair Amanda Montgomery; Betsy Sterling, Vice President of Beaver Excavating Company, which handled construction of the project; Dan Flowers, CEO of the foodbank; Katie Carver Reed, Vice President of the foodbank, and Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro.

In its 42-year history, the food bank has primarily served as a donation and distribution center, he said. Community members and organizations drop off donations, which are inspected, sorted and packed, and picked up by partners like churches and homeless shelters, Flowers said.

Now, Akron residents in the surrounding neighborhoods, where there is a great need, can get food right at the facility, Flowers said.

“There’s a lot of people in this immediate area that are going to be able to come over here for food,” Flowers said. “Fortunately, because it’s here at the mothership, we can replenish it as inventory is utilized.”

Officials were inspired by the success of the on-site pantry at the food bank’s Stark County location, which opened in 2021. That pantry serves about 800 people per week, and Flowers expects similar numbers in Akron, he added.

They’ve also partnered with community agencies, like Summit County Job and Family Services and Community Legal Aid, to connect pantry visitors to other services.

“They are setting up here on different days of the week, so when people come to get their food, if they have other needs, if there’s other ways we can help them … then we can assist them in other ways while they’re here,” Flowers said.

The food bank distributes food across eight counties: Carroll, Holmes, Medina, Portage, Stark, Summit, Tuscarawas and Wayne. Last year, the food bank distributed a record 35 million pounds of food across the area it serves, Flowers said.

He expects they’ll serve 45 to 50 million pounds this year, due to the continued need and the new expanded storage space, he said.

“How much space we have has a bearing on what we say ‘yes’ to, and what we say ‘yes’ to obviously dictates what we have available for our community here,” Flowers said. “I think we’ll be able to do a lot more with this, a lot more efficiently and hopefully a lot more safely as well.”

The food pantry is open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.