As the Greater Cleveland Food Bank Serves a Growing Need Because of COVID-19, Donations Are Essential to Keep Up With Demand

he Greater Cleveland Food Bank has seen a 30-percent increase in new clients seeking food assistance since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and related shutdowns, layoffs and closures in Northeast Ohio.

“We’re in about week four of the crisis,” said Director of Communications Karen Pozna. “We have learned how to be flexible. We’re learning to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. We have our staff and the National Guard in here and we’re doing our best to implement social distancing. Staff that can work from home. We do miss our volunteers, some that we see every day. People that we serve, we’ve had to learn how to get the food out in a safe, sufficient way.”

Pictures and videos of hundreds of cars lining I-90 while waiting hours for boxes from the Food Bank have been shocking, but don’t even capture the full scope of the need in local communities. It’s been all hands on deck to get assistance to everyone that needs it.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has dispatched 70 National Guardsmen to the Food Bank where they’ll lend support for at least another two weeks. “They’re doing everything. Helping out with logistics for our drive-through sites, packing boxes, going out to some of our partner programs. Two are even driving trucks for us,” Pozna said.

In order to safely socially distance and get food to as many people as they can, the Food Bank has moved to drive-through programs at the Muni Lot. They are strongly encouraging those in need to pre-register at WeFeedCLE.org in order to make the line go faster, help the organization know how much food they need to pack, and also to limit any physical contact.

“One of our best resources is our help center. Anyone in need of help can call 216-738-2067 and we can tell you where to go to receive some assistance,” said Pozna. “Calls have tripled there, but we’re here to help.” Those in need can also visit this interactive map to see the sites closest to them..

In addition to servicing the 30-percent increase in new clientele, the Food Bank has also implemented more programs for kids who are out of school. They normally work with about 1,000 partner programs around the community to hand out food and about 800 of those are still open. They are currently handing out close to 9,000 weekend food supply packs for students in need, a number that’s close to triple the usual amount. They’re working with places like the Cleveland Municipal School District, Breakthrough Schools, the Parma School District and others in order to get meals out.

The organization is currently projecting a 30-percent increase in budget needs through the fiscal year, which ends in September. While it recently received a large grant from the state of Ohio and also financial assistance from the USDA and federal government, the Food Bank is still in need of donations, especially as the needs for the community increase and as some corporate contributions for the Harvest for Hunger program have been curtailed or cut.

The food bank is also asking those who’d like to volunteer to keep an eye glued to their site and social media, because while they aren’t using volunteers now because of the National Guard, they may need some help soon.

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