Feeding our Neighbors with Greater Cleveland Food Bank

December 23, 2019

For most, the holidays are a time for celebration and excess; however, for the one in six food insecure residents of Northeast Ohio, it is still a time of struggle. With such need prevalent in our very own backyard, it didn’t feel right to celebrate our prosperity this year without giving back. We sat down with Rod McGuire, the Director of Food Services at the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, to learn more about how the largest hunger relief organization in Northeast Ohio works to feed our community, and how we can volunteer our time to help.

Food Insecurity in Northeast Ohio

Food insecurity, as defined by the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, is not knowing where your next meal is coming from. The Food Bank reports that Cuyahoga County has the second highest rate of food insecurity in the state of Ohio, just behind Athens County. Further, as of 2018, Cleveland tied with Detroit for having the highest rate of child poverty in the U.S. – that’s one in every five children. “Making sure children have the nutritious food they need to survive is a top priority for the Food Bank,” Rod relays. “We have what we call our Children’s Nutrition Initiative that targets school-age children to get the food that they need.” This initiative includes programs such as Backpacks for Kids, Kids Café, the Summer Food Service Program and the School Market Program. Rod further explains, “The child nutrition meal sites are often a part of afterschool programming. On a daily basis, over 3,000 meals are planned for our 100+ Kid’s Café sites.” In addition, about 2,000 meals are prepared per day for seniors. Rod states “Senior meals are prepared for partners and delivered to their sites daily. These are then heated and delivered to senior’s homes or served at day centers.”

Visiting the Greater Cleveland Food Bank

Serving six counties in Northeast Ohio, the Greater Cleveland Food Bank’s massive enterprise is located on the east side of Cleveland. Last year alone, the Food Bank provided more than 57 million meals to more than 300,000 people by distributing “food and other critical grocery products to more than 1,000 local food pantries, hot meal programs, shelters, mobile pantries, programs for the elderly and other nonprofit agencies,” as their website states. They also receive, sort and re-distribute donations, take hundreds of calls a day in their Benefits and Assistance Help Center, and prepare nutritious meal in the Food Bank Kitchen – which is where the Premier ProduceOne team had the opportunity to volunteer our time this holiday season. Our team of 5 packed approximately 700 lunches for kids in need – using the oranges and baby carrots we provided!  These bagged lunches go out to community partners where children already congregate during afterschool hours or holiday breaks, such as the Cleveland Public Library System and Cuyahoga County Public Libraries.

Nutrition and Planning

Rod explains “Distribution is planned by our Agency Services and Programs team. They set up relationships with sites and partners.” In short, the Food Bank works as sort of a food hub, sourcing food, organizing it into nutritious meal plans, and distributing it throughout the community. Inclusion of more fresh fruits and vegetables was a conscious change implemented over the past couple years – now 46% of the food distributed by the Food Bank is fresh produce. Rod illustrates “All of our menus are planned by a Licensed Dietician and reviewed for nutritional adequacy… We now do a lot of pre-portioned fruit items for our cold lunches and have added fresh salad as a vegetable option for the hot meal sites.” Programs like Mobile Pantry, Food as Medicine, and Nutrition Education are vital to getting the nutritious food out to the clients who need it most.

Food Safety

With many sources of food procurement, food safety is a priority at the Food Bank. “For our kitchen, all of our product is inspected by our Inventory Specialist when it is delivered, and then by our production team before it is used,” Rod describes. This is a part of a HACCP plan for all products. The kitchen is ODA licensed and has regular testing for food safety. Rod expresses, “The main safety control is temperature. Keeping the cold chain intact prolongs the life and quality of products and maintains overall food safety.” A team works with volunteers on the temperature-controlled, AIB certified dock to sort and inspect donations, and then ship them back out.

Creating a Food Safe Tomorrow

In addition to a food safe today, a critical goal of the food bank is creating a food safe tomorrow by addressing the root causes of food insecurity. Rod reveals “The Food Bank is expanding our partnerships with organizations focused on the three primary drivers of food insecurity: employment, housing and healthcare.” The Food Bank has become of the largest application assisters in the State of Ohio, providing application assistance resulting in 19.3 million meals for eligible people in Northeast Ohio last year through SNAP outreach efforts. They also help clients apply for other benefits including Medicaid, Medicare subsidies for seniors, HEAP utility assistance, and cash assistance, as well connect clients to other community partners who specialize in employment, housing and health. Further, the Food Bank was also chosen as “one of three food banks nationally to participate in Feeding America’s Household Empowerment Pilot, which aims to move working poor families to food security with a series of food and financial interventions,” Rod conveys.   

How to Help

While the holidays are a popular time to give back, the Food Bank and food insecure residents need community support year-round. After the holidays are over, Ohio winter hits hard, and nutrition becomes as vital as ever. There are several ways you can help. One way is to make a monetary donation. Rod explains “For every dollar donated, the Food Bank can help provide four nutritious meals.” You can also volunteer individually, or as a group, like the Premier ProduceOne team did. Rod affirms “Volunteers are an essential part of the Food Bank’s operations. People are needed to sort and repack donated product as well as prepare meals in our kitchen.” To get more information go to www.GreaterClevelandFoodBank.org.  



Written by Marianna Marchenko