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Medworks’ COVID-19 Relief Fund helping feed the hungry and keep restaurants afloat all at once

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Posted at 1:44 PM, Apr 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-29 19:08:05-04

CLEVELAND — In one big effort, healthcare nonprofit Medworks is helping feed people who struggle with food insecurity while also helping community restaurants stay afloat during the coronavirus outbreak.

Life was far from easy even before the coronavirus outbreak for people who get help from the West Side Catholic Center in Ohio City.

Finding housing, job training, and food was hard enough before nearly every business and organization was forced to work remotely.

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The West Side Catholic Center has shifted staff and volunteers to safely serve people who still need help finding food during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s a day-to-day thing for people we serve anyway,” said West Side Catholic Center Executive Director John Litten. “With options even more limited, that problem is exacerbated.”

Medworks usually helps people who don’t have health insurance, or are under-insured, get access to healthcare. It’s primary focus usually isn’t food insecurity, but with all non-essential healthcare visits canceled because of the coronavirus, Medworks Executive Director Jennifer Andress said a pivot made sense.

“We knew that food insecurity was already a challenge,” said Andress.

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Medworks' COVID-19 Relief Fund was created specifically to help people in need during the outbreak.

Eventually, the organization concluded it would be most helpful creating a way to provide meals to people who might struggle to buy them, while helping them support locally owned businesses.

“If the local restaurants and groceries in different neighborhoods that we serve are closing down, then that becomes a food dessert,” said Andress.

To stop that, Medworks created the COVID-19 Relief Fund, which has collected at least $50,000 in the first five weeks. Seventy five percent of the money is used to buy gift cards from restaurants and grocery stores. Twenty five percent of the money is used to buy meals for frontline workers at local hospitals.

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Randall Talbott makes a pizza before Ohio City Pizzeria opened to the public in the summer of 2019.

Local organizations and community leaders like Benjamin Rose Institute of Aging, The Hunger Network, and The Cleveland Rotary Club, among many others, help Medworks figure out where to send the resources.

“They are the ones who know their community best, so they know the families who are most vulnerable,” said Andress.

At a place like West Side Catholic Center, it makes a big difference in the lives of the people the gift cards buy meals for, but also in the restaurant West Side Catholic Center runs just down the street, Ohio City Pizzeria.

See News 5 Cleveland's previous coverage of Ohio City Pizzeria here.

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A table is set at Ohio City Pizzeria before it opened to the public in the summer of 2019. During the coronavirus, the pizzeria has still been serving meals for take out.

Ohio City Pizzeria gives West Side Catholic Center clients a place to work while learning job skills. It has sold at least 150 gift cards to Medworks so far with plans to sell another large batch.

“For those funds to flow directly to clients, then directly to the pizzeria, which supports the center’s mission, is a beautiful cycle,” said Litten.

If you want to donate to the COVID-19 Relief Fund, click here.