CLEVELAND — A multi-million dollar boost is in the works for the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, which has seen staggering levels of demand since the pandemic began. Council President Kevin Kelley and Councilman Mike Polensek announced Tuesday that legislation will be introduced to allocate $5 million in COVID-19 relief money to help fund the ongoing expansion of the GCFB operations, including a new distribution center that is currently under construction.
Council members Kelly, Polensek and Tony Brancatelli announced the to-be-drafted legislation on the steps of Cleveland City Hall Tuesday morning. GCFB CEO Kristin Warzocha said the food bank has increased its distribution by 9 million pounds of food in a single year. As many as 100,000 new families have been served by the GCFB over the past year, which amounts to, on average, about 400,000 people.
The staggering demand hasn’t lost any steam either, Warzocha said.
“We hoped and prayed that the need would be down by now, but last Thursday we served 1,700 families. That’s more than 5,000 people in one afternoon,” Warzocha said. “It’s been almost a year and a half since the pandemic began.”
The GCFB set a new record in families served in 2020 and almost half of Cleveland’s residents have received food from the food bank or one of its partner programs since the pandemic began. Earlier this year, construction began on a new distribution center for GCFB, which will be nearly 200,000 square feet. Built on a tract of land on Coit Road, the new distribution center, which will open in 2022, will become the new home of the food bank’s distribution drives. Once it opens, the food bank’s current facility on South Waterloo Road will be renovated.
Since the pandemic began, the GCFB has held weekly food distribution events at the Muni Lot, which has frequently hosted long lines of cars stretching onto Marginal Road all the way to East 55th Street.
The images weren’t lost on Councilman Kelley.
“If you look at who COVID has hurt, it really was people that were hurting before the pandemic hit,” Kelley said. “You look at who stepped up to meet that challenge and it has been the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.”
Warzocha said the $5 million contribution from the city, if approved, will help propel GCFB’s expansion project forward and further increase its distribution and operational capacity. The demand for food will linger well beyond the conclusion of the pandemic.
“This has been such a challenging year for so many people in our community and across our nation,” Warzocha said. “We are buying twice the food that we have ever had to purchase before. That is all made possible through donated dollars, gifts like this from the city of Cleveland and other gifts to our expansion project. They are helping us to move forward to do more in the future to not just fight hunger today but also address the root causes of hunger in the future.”