CLEVELAND — According to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, 81,000 children in the greater Cleveland area are food insecure and don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
To help those communities rebound, the food bank and the Cleveland Public Library are teaming up to make sure they don't go hungry.
Every Thursday between June 8 and August 7, the food bank’s outreach truck will set up outside four Cleveland Public Library branches, Fleet and Sterling on the east side, Walz and Fulton on the west side. Staff will hand out free grab and go meals for kids ages 18 and under.
“The reason we chose those locations is that we worked together to choose locations on both the east and west side, so everyone can have access to food no matter where they live,” said Dr. Sadie Winlock, the Chief Equity, Education, and Engagement Officer for the Cleveland Public Library. “We also looked at data with the help of the food bank from last year and found the community surrounding those branches that had the greatest need for summer meals.
Children will take home a bag with enough food for five meals, including some shelf-stable items. Food bank staff will also be helping parents apply for food assistance programs, like SNAP. Each location will have enough food for up to 50 children, but that could change depending on demand.
Jessica Morgan, the Vice-President of Agency Programs and Services at Greater Cleveland Food Bank says the need is higher than ever. Over the months of March and April she says they saw 20,000 new families at their Cleveland municipal lot food distributions.
“We know that we're going to have to make adjustments and think creatively about how we can serve families who need us the most and so, the last couple of months have just been, we've never been busier frankly, I've been at the food bank for eight years and have never seen it this busy,” Morgan said.
The food bank typically prepares about 3,000 to 3,500 meals a day for kids in need each summer through its Summer Food Service Program, but they knew getting the food to those kids this year would be different because of the pandemic. That’s when they reached out to CPL for help.
The library already partners with the food bank for its Kids Cafe Program which provides meals for kids at all 28 of its branches during the school year.
“Based on their statistics, they indicated that for some reason the children who receive the free meals during the school year are not coming to receive the food during the summer. So we were really already working on, you know, what do we do?” Dr. Winlock said. “They pulled all of their partners together to figure out how do we solve this problem? And COVID-19 helped us get to that answer faster.
“I think in any typical year, if we were doing some sort of mobile summer feeding program, we would have spent months planning and strategizing and, and really trying to be thoughtful and we knew we had to be reactive,” Morgan said. “And so in about four weeks time, we were able to put together a successful program that still allowed for a number of library branches to provide children with access to meals this summer, and we're really excited about this opportunity.”
Staff will be wearing masks and gloves at each grab and go site. They’re asking parents and kids to do the same if possible and practice social distancing.
“We want families to feel safe coming. We want our staff to feel safe distributing meals. We have a number of staff who will be going out daily and we want to make sure that they also feel safe and so every food bank employee will be wearing masks and gloves as the meals are served,” Morgan said. “There will be hand sanitizer available, we'll have a table setup where we will put the meals on the table.”
The Fleet and Walz branches will offer meals every Thursday until August 7 from 10:30 a.m. until noon. Sterling and Fulton will have them during the same time frame from 12:30 p.m. until 2 p.m.
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