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Northeast Ohio Food Banks Still Facing High Demand Due To COVID-19

The Greater Cleveland Food Bank provides sack lunches to children over the summer. [Darrielle Snipes / ideastream]
Sack lunches The Greater Cleveland Food Bank provides to students over the summer.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought an unprecedented number of families to food banks and pantries across Northeast Ohio. For many food banks, that trend is continuing despite the state’s reopening efforts.

The Westlake Food Pantry saw an uptick in donations around the start of the coronavirus pandemic, said the city’s Outreach Coordinator Donna Feorene.

“We’re seeing that level off as people go back to work and get back to their lives, so supplies are dwindling a bit,” Feorene said.

But the food pantry is seeing a 400 percent increase in demand for its services compared to this time last year, Feorene said. Volunteers typically send out about 20 baskets per month this time of year, she said, but with the pandemic they’re up to more than 100.

“We expect things to gradually go back to normal,” Feorene said. “We are seeing a slight drop off as unemployment has kicked in for more people, and some are going back to work.”

The food pantry has increased the amount of food going into each basket, Feorene said. But with more people coming through for food and more items going out in each basket, demand is outpacing supplies and donations. The pantry has a no-contact collection method for anyone interested in donating, as well as curbside pickup and delivery options for those in need.

The Greater Cleveland Food Bank is still helping more than 1,000 households each week with its drive-thru service, said President and CEO Kristin Warzocha. She expects the need to remain high for some time.

“At the very beginning of this pandemic, we were very concerned about not having enough food to provide to all of our partners and for us to purchase a lot of food,” Warzocha said. “Some public sources have started to come in.”

Federal initiatives such as the Emergency Food Assistance program and the USDA Farmers to Families program are providing supplies and assistance to meet the need, Warzocha said.

Four Northern Ohio companies have been awarded contracts for the Farmers to Families program, which increases access to produce and dairy, according to a Monday press release from Cleveland City Council. Sanson Co. and Miceli Dairy Products Co. in Cleveland, Chef’s Garden in Huron and Wiers Farm Inc. in Willard will supply produce and dairy products to be distributed to regional food banks and other nonprofits. Sanson made its first delivery for the program Monday at the Northern Ohio Recovery Association.

The Greater Cleveland Food Bank also started its summer food service program last week, Warzocha said, providing meals to children without regular food access. The program has 56 partners, Warzocha said, though some potential partners have struggled to reopen following the pandemic.

“We’re looking for other ways that we can get food out to children this summer as well,” Warzocha said. “I think this is going to be the busiest summer in our history.”

Traffic at the Parma Heights Food Pantry has been inconsistent, said founder Ann George. The pantry helped 11 families Monday morning, she said, but the week before there were days with much higher counts.

The pantry is no longer restricting its services to Parma residents, she said.

“We’re seeing more and more people that are working people, that are coming to pantries for the first time,” she said.