CLEVELAND — Difficult is the word Kristin Warzocha, President and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, used to describe the fight against hunger during the pandemic.
"It’s been an extraordinarily difficult and challenging year, unlike anything I've ever seen in my history at the food bank and I've been here 20 years now, including during the last recession,” she said. “It is heartbreaking to see the number of families waiting in line for food."
Her team, with the help of volunteers, has been hosting weekly food distributions since April and each week thousands of families show up.
“We served 5,000 families the week before Thanksgiving, which was an absolute record. So, we we're going to have our work cut out for us in the year ahead,” Warzocha said.
Warzocha said the food bank caught a break in March, as did many families, when the first round of stimulus checks was sent out. The financial relief they provided carried on throughout the summer. During that time – she said the food bank was serving just under 2,000 families weekly.
“The fact is, over the last couple of months, those stimulus checks are gone. Folks have really been struggling. And even families who had an emergency funds back in March, that emergency fund isn't there anymore,” she explained. “We're seeing new records and are expecting a very large turnout [Wednesday] as well.”
Warzocha said the good news is the new stimulus package covers SNAP benefits, noting a 15% increase.
“That 15% increase in SNAP benefits will absolutely be a help and additional unemployment benefits, I know are desperately needed by the clients that we serve.”
But until that relief actually comes, the food bank is working and vowing to keep up with demand.
“We've purchased more food this year than we've ever had to purchase in our history, but thanks to wonderful donations from the community, we've been in a position to do that,” Warzocha said. “We're looking towards the year ahead to try to make sure we continue to have enough food. We will make sure that we do, because we need we know that the need will continue for quite some time.”
The food bank will be out at the Cleveland Muni Lot Wednesday distributing food from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. You are asked to pre-register before you show up. You can do that online or by calling the food bank’s help center at 216-738-2067.