CANTON, Ohio — The Akron Canton Regional Foodbank is hitting the road to help families in need.
The agency purchased a new truck in late 2020 and converted it into a pop-up pantry.
After much research, the foodbank determined Portage and Stark Counties were ideal locations based on an increase in need.
The refrigerated mobile pantry visits the J Babe Stearn Center in Canton on the first Wednesday of the month and Kent State University on the third Wednesday of the month.
Both the community center and KSU provide volunteers to manage the food distribution.
Foodbank employees and volunteers handed boxes of shelf staple foods and frozen meat to nearly 70 families at the Canton location Wednesday afternoon.
61-year-old Mike Cupples was the first in line at the drive-thru distribution.
Cupples, who has three other family members in his home, has been on disability since he was hurt on the job in 2006. He believes the pop-up pantry is much needed.
"I think this is awesome because a lot of people can't afford, or be able to get to the store period," Cupples said.
56-year-old Van Foley, who works seasonally and is currently laid off, was also grateful for the food and realizes many others are struggling amid the pandemic.
"This is a pretty devastating time for people," Foley said.
The food bank has seven trucks that are used to collect food from donors and deliver the food to hundreds of hunger relief partners in eight counties, but the pop-up truck is the first in the fleet to truly get into neighborhoods. It was purchased through a Feeding America grant.
"The idea that we can meet community members where they are in their own community, it means a lot," said Raven Gayheart, a spokesperson for Akron Canton Regional Foodbank.
Gayheart stressed there has been a dramatic spike in the struggle for food access in the area.
For example, there are 65,380 food insecure people in Stark County, a 30% increase caused by COVID-19. That includes 22,430 food insecure children, a 39% increase caused by the pandemic.
"I think what the pandemic has shown us is so many families are paycheck to paycheck, so many are one or two paychecks away from needing to stand in a food line," Gayheart said.
Besides the mobile stops in Stark and Portage Counties, the truck will visit Lodi on April 1 through a partnership with Feeding Medina County.
The distribution will take place from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Medina County Park District's Hidden Hollow Camp. Additional distributions will be held the first Thursday of each month at the same location.
"This is here for the long haul and it's something we're so excited about," Gayheart said.
For those who need a little extra help, like Foley, there is gratitude for the truck coming so close to home.
"I'm just thankful that there's people out here willing to help everybody get through this," he said.