CLEVELAND — Asking for help can be one of the hardest things to do. That pride could be keeping some children from a meal during the summer months.
However, a cell phone, six simple numbers and a text can help fight hunger in our community.
"We have a lot of families here that need assistance," said Jennifer Pullom with Merrick House.
But not all of them reach out. Instead they suffer in silence.
"Because they're afraid of people being in their business and knowing their circumstances," said Pullom.
Share our Strength, which works to end hunger and poverty, is on a mission to increase access to summer food programs like the one at Merrick House in Tremont.
"Your kids are our kids here," said Pullom.
Just simply text "FOOD" to 877-877, put in your zip code and a comprehensive list of the closest meal sites pops up.
"There's no registration. You can just come in and eat. If you're hungry you can come in and eat," said Pullom.
All of it is completely anonymous.
Right now, there are more than 100 locations across Northeast Ohio serving students breakfast and lunch.
Demand is high, as Cleveland's child poverty rate ranks the worst in the country, according to the U.S. Census.
"Things are tight for these families that really depended on these two meals and more importantly, many times these children are going without those meals," said Nancy Mendez, United Way of Greater Cleveland.
The United Way's 211 line is starting to see a spike in calls for help.
"Food resources is the number one ask, not surprisingly, during the summer months," said Mendez.
At Merrick House, they'd typically see about 80 hungry children a month.
"Our numbers have gone up to like 198 kids," said Pullom.
The Greater Cleveland Food Bank is joining forces with community centers like Merrick House to serve more than 200,000 meals to students during the summer.
"I am committed to kids in this community," said Pullom.
Pullom, who oversees the summer food program at Merrick House, said they're doing much more than just satisfying appetites.
"When do you get your social skills and learn how to care about people? Sitting at the table and having hot meals," said Pullom.
Pullom expects to see more students showing up over the next several weeks thanks to the ability to reach out for help via text.
"Now the kids have direct access themselves, especially if they have a cell phone," said Pullom.
The Summer Food Service Program runs through August 9.
This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.