Food pantry serves 300 families weekly
Every Tuesday morning for the last seven years, dedicated volunteers from Forest Hill Presbyterian Church and the surrounding neighborhood have gathered at the church to unload trucks and vans full of donations for Abundance Food Pantry. For six hours, these hardworking volunteers pack about 60 pounds of food per family into bags and boxes, which currently are distributed to about 300 households each week.
In 2019, these donations provided enough groceries for 420,000 meals. By working with the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, Abundance Food Pantry has been able to reduce its cost to 4 cents per meal, and offer many healthy choices, with more than 35 percent being fresh produce.
Getting these groceries to the church requires another dedicated volunteer team, with five pickup trucks and one van making multiple trips.
Greater Cleveland Food Bank is the primary source of the groceries, which include meat, dairy products, vegetables, fruit, dry goods, bread, and hygiene items. Additional food donors include Zagara’s Marketplace, Save-a-Lot, Heinen’s, Panera’s, and Bruegger’s Bagels. Funding for these items comes from Harvest for Hunger, United Way, church groups, and individuals
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the pantry’s procedures had to change. Pantry customers, who previously came inside for food, now must stay in their cars, to reduce exposure for all, and groceries are placed directly in their trunks. The pantry also asks that customers wear a mask when they provide their name and other information required by the USDA.
All volunteers wear masks and gloves, and have their temperatures checked at the beginning of the day. Hands are washed and sanitized frequently. All touched surfaces are disinfected before and after each pantry event. Older and more at-risk volunteers have decided to stay at home until the pandemic is over.
Abundance Food Pantry is now the fourth largest food pantry associated with the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. Since last year, the number of families served each Tuesday has increased from an average of 200 to as many as 300. The pantry has also increased the amount of groceries going to each family, from 50 to 60 pounds, at each visit.
As the need continues to grow, pantry organizers ask customers to visit only every other week.
While the pantry has traditionally provided a food safety net for residents of Hough, Glenville, Collinwood, East Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, University Heights, South Euclid, and Buckeye/Shaker Square, it will now distribute food to all qualified families—even those residing outside of its original seven-zip-code service area.
The pantry continues to evaluate its procedures, to identify better ways of serving its neighbors.
Paul Jenkins and Ray Gonzalez
Paul Jenkins is a volunteer manager for Abundance Food Pantry, and Ray Gonzalez is a volunteer.