Many public institutions have had to undergo drastic changes in the wake of the pandemic, and food banks are no exception. The Greater Cleveland Food Bank, northeast Ohio’s largest food bank, has been working hard to rise to the challenge presented by COVID-19.
In the past seven months, the food bank has had to cope with fewer volunteers and less access to food, all while trying to serve a growing number of people.
“The pandemic has really had a tremendous impact on our operation and how we distribute food,” Karen Pozna, the food bank’s director of communications, commented. “We actually kicked into our disaster-planning mode last March … it was the first time that we ever really had to put [it] into action.”
As COVID-19 shut down schools and senior programs, and volunteers stopped signing up for shifts, food banks across the state turned to the federal government for help. Members of the National Guard came to help pack and distribute food, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided food when the supply chain faced shortages. Simultaneously, the number of people in need grew. According to Pozna, the food bank has served over 37,000 new households from mid-March to Sept. 6, which is more than twice the amount of new households served at the same time last year.
The food bank has begun to integrate regular volunteers back into its operations and is making diligent efforts to follow all necessary safety protocols. Thermal cameras at the building’s entrance check the temperature of volunteers as they arrive, and regular hand washing and sanitizing, mask wearing and social distancing are required. Volunteers who pack food are required to wear gloves. Social distancing regulations have restricted the number of volunteers allowed in the building at once. However, Pozna says that, “the volunteers that have been coming in [have] really been hard at work and cranking out projects.”
The food bank has also transitioned from monthly to weekly food distributions, and now distributes food from the North Coast Municipal Parking Lot (widely known as the Cleveland Muni Lot). Volunteers work at these drive-up food distributions to check people in, direct traffic and load food into cars. These volunteers are also required to do temperature checks and wear a mask.
The food bank has its hardworking administrators and volunteers, as well as the Cleveland community as a whole, to thank for helping them through these difficult times, a point which Pozna emphasized. “The community’s response to the food bank and our efforts to respond to this pandemic have been truly impressive,” she said. “The Greater Cleveland community is known for their generosity, and they’ve really stepped up over the past few months.”
However, they still need all the help they can get from the community in order to continue providing food to a growing number of families. When it comes to donations, monetary donations are best, as they allow the food bank to purchase the foods they need the most. However, donations of nonperishable food items are accepted, specifically soups, canned vegetables and foods such as macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and cereal are needed. The food bank also needs more volunteers, as the number of volunteers coming through school groups and corporations has diminished as schools and businesses go virtual.
To make a donation or sign up to volunteer, visit their website.