Greater Cleveland Food Bank
By Stacy Turner
One in seven Ohioans are currently food insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to affordable, healthy food. Cleveland’s child poverty rate has been consistently among the highest of large US cities, with one in five children living in poverty. “Many of our neighbors face the difficult choice of whether to buy food or pay for rent or utilities to support their families,” shared Jessica Morgan, chief programs officer at the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. “Our mission at the Food Bank is to ensure that everyone in our community has the nutritious food they need every day.”
The Greater Cleveland Food Bank hasn’t strayed from that mission since its inception over 40 years ago when a group of civic-minded individuals came together to help resolve the issue of hunger in their community. In its first year, the organization distributed more than 400,000 pounds of food to 100 local partner agencies. Last year, the Greater Cleveland Food Bank distributed 48 million pounds of food to nearly 350,000 people through over 1,000 partner agencies in Ashland, Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, and Richland counties.
To address other needs affecting individuals and families in crisis today, the Food Bank operates a community food distribution center, providing food and other critical grocery products to local food pantries, hot meal programs, shelters, mobile pantries, and programs for the elderly.
“Our challenge,” Morgan explained, “is that our organization serves a variety of communities — from urban areas to the suburbs, as well as rural and very rural areas. Implementing programs and services in each of these environments looks very different for us.”
Some clients served through Food Bank programs are working families with low-paying jobs struggling to make ends meet. Others are seniors on a fixed income who, by month’s end, have limited funds left for groceries.
The Food Bank Help Center answers hundreds of calls each day, referring low-income callers to local agencies and assisting them in applying for the SNAP program and other benefits. Last year, the outreach team helped nearly 40,000 eligible people apply for public benefits. “We continue to connect our clients to other nonprofits to address the main drivers of food insecurity: housing, healthcare, and employment,” Morgan explained. Assistance is available in person at the new Coit Road location, where no appointment is necessary, or via phone Monday through Friday from 9 am to 4 pm.
Back in 2018, the Greater Cleveland Food Bank started work on a three-phase expansion plan. “It began, in part because we were running out of space at our existing facility on South Waterloo Road” Morgan noted.
Phase one called for the creation of a new partner distribution hub. The facility was built on land donated to the Food Bank and opened in October 2022 on Coit Road. This new building has way more space which allows the organization to facilitate inbound shipments of food and supplies and to efficiently distribute these resources to the Food Bank’s partner agencies.
The new facility also provides 30% more dry storage areas and a whopping 98% more cold storage than available in the former building. Since two-thirds of the foods distributed through the Food Bank are healthy, perishable items, this expanded storage capacity is a win not only for the Food Bank and its partners, but ultimately for the clients they serve. “This new facility is not only crucial to how we work now, but how we’ll work in the future,” Morgan shared.
The Food Bank’s Help Center is also located here, as is the Greater Cleveland Food Bank Kitchen.
The Food Bank Kitchen has been around for 20 years and is one of nearly 200 Feeding America Network facilities spread across the US and Puerto Rico. Each day, more than 6,500 healthy meals are prepared at the Food Bank Kitchen, with 1,700 meals delivered by partner agencies to seniors in their homes and another 1,000 meals delivered to congregate programs in senior centers.
Another 1,300 meals are assembled to be reheated at Kids Café sites, while an additional 2,000 cold meals are packaged daily for sites without the ability to serve hot meals. In addition, from early June through mid-August, the Kitchen provides summer food service to 100 sites across its service area, where 3,000 cold meals and 2,500 hot meals are served each day to school-age children, with 1,200 breakfasts served daily as well.
The kitchen at the new facility is a shiny, new 18,000 square feet space. And while the kitchen currently produces roughly 7,000 meals each day, the new space will allow staff the capacity to produce up to 19,000 meals daily over time. The former kitchen measured a mere 4,000 square feet, producing 4,000 meals per day on-site, with additional meals packaged off-site to meet the organization’s growing needs.
The Food Bank’s mission is to end hunger today, tomorrow, and for a lifetime. Access to healthy, nutritious food is the most basic need. But research has shown that the largest drivers of food insecurity are housing, healthcare, and employment, and the Food Bank hopes to address these issues in phase two. To accomplish this, the Food Bank’s former facility on South Waterloo is currently being renovated. When it reopens this fall, the building will serve as a community resource center.
The center will help clients with resources including housing, employment, legal services, and healthcare, as well as help prepare low-income children for kindergarten. The facility will also host a food pantry filled with healthy options, which will provide clients with the ability to select items that support their tastes, health and dietary restrictions. “We’re neck-deep in the planning,” Morgan explained. But by making these resources accessible at one location, the Food Bank hopes to move people out of food insecurity forever.
While the construction is underway, clients will receive the food they need at partner locations. Food is also distributed to clients at the Municipal Lot in Cleveland twice a month — something the Food Bank implemented during the height of the pandemic. Another food pantry is run by the city of Euclid and operates 20-25 hours per week, as well. To find a location near you, visit www.greaterclevelandfoodbank.org.
“Helping people move out of food insecurity -- that’s our ultimate goal,” Morgan concluded. If you’d like to volunteer, donate, or find out more, visit greaterclevelandfoodbank.org.
To find out what resources are available to you, contact the outreach team at the help center Monday through Friday from 9 am until 4 pm; in person at 13815 Coit Road; or by calling 216- 738-2067 or 1-855-738-2067.