A Fresh Vision for the Akron/Canton Regional Foodbank (Part Two) – 2012-02-04

By Katie Sobiech

This past Tuesday Arlington Memorial Baptist Church gave away 18,000 pounds of food to the needy, thanks to a donation given by the Akron/Canton Regional Foodbank (ACRF).

Every week, the ACRF donates food to this church, as well as to many other members of their agency across the county.

Mary Coppenger, 72, and her husband Jack, 75, have been giving out food at Arlington Baptist for 4 years now.

The happily married couple of 50 years arrives at the church at 5:00 a.m. every Tuesday morning to set up, staying until 1:30.

“When we first started there was only about 15 people coming. We’d sit here, read the paper and have coffee,” Mary said of their beginnings.

Now they average 100-150 people each time.

“We’re seeing so many new people. Some have filed in today, they lost their job – just overnight – no job,” Mary said.

Thankful

Recipients of the food ranged from young children, to middle-school-aged students with their parents, to the elderly.

“This is such a blessing. I don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed to walk through the door and ask for their help. They are good people here,” Marilyn, a divorced mother of 3 said.

“I was a straight-A student from Springfield and had a lot of things going for me,” she said.

But things took a downward spiral after the birth of her first child at age 17.

Following a traumatizing incident, divorce, and a husband who stopped paying child support – she found herself in great need.

“It helps you get through,” she said, explaining that food stamps are not enough.

Volunteers pack a cart-full of food items including fresh fruits and vegetables, pizza and cereal – which makes it easy and convenient.

“I don’t always have a vehicle that I can borrow to come get the food. I’m time limited, and they have it all put together for you,” Marilyn said.

Jeff Wilson, a father of 3, came to the church for food for the first time on Tuesday, due to a layoff.

“I don’t have any money,” he said, with two tiny children barely tall enough to see past the table standing next to him.

“It feels good that someone’s helping you and you know there are people out there that do care about you,” Wilson said.

Giving Back

Shelly Connor, a volunteer, brought her daughter, about 4 years old, and baby.

“We like to involve our families and kids,” she said, as her daughter ran back and forth.

Mary Eblen, another volunteer, was inspired to give back because the issue of hunger hit close to home for her.

“Years ago before I started volunteering my oldest son needed some food and I was not able to keep buying for him, so I came over and after that, started volunteering. It’s just something I enjoy doing. It makes you feel good,” Eblen said.

Laurie Snyder, another volunteer shared “We have a lot more food than we ever used to,” since her start in 2003.

“It gives you a good feeling to know you’re helping these people. It has to be terrible to sit on the other side of this table,” Mary Coppenger said, looking out into the crowd of individuals and families waiting for their cart of food.

“If not for the grace of God, we might all be there. So we enjoy what we’re doing,” she continued.

The Foodbank’s Goals for 2012

“In 2012 we are taking on a very ambitious goal to distribute over a million more pounds of fresh and perishable produce to people in need. So we’re really excited about that,” Dan Flowers, President and CEO of the ACRF said.

“We have some top-line strategic objectives that I’m really looking forward to working on with our Board of Directors,” Flowers said.

Their number one goal is to increase the availability of fresh produce.

Their national network, Feeding America, has made a commitment to try to source and distribute a billion more pounds of fresh produce around the country in the next 5 years. This means the ACRF has the potential of increasing their fresh produce by 5 million pounds in the next 5 years.

“We’re also looking to invest in our food procurement team and hire another person to help us get more surplus food,” Flowers said, “I’m convinced that there’s a lot of food in the 8 county region that we serve that we still can’t find. We can bring that here and distribute it to people in need -good, healthy, wholesome food that we can find a home and use for.”

Newest Addition

One thing that’s for sure is that the food bank isn’t stagnant. They are always coming up with fresh, new ideas and ways to improve what they do to reach the population in the best way possible.

2011 brought their latest addition – a food demonstration and preparation kitchen. They are now in the process of initiating the program.

This is helpful because every member of all 450 charities that benefit from the food bank are required to have Serve-Safe Certification.

“Volunteers go through this so they can be mindful of food safety and proper food handling. We really strive to have a culture of food safety, not just at our food bank, but at all of our charities that partner or receive food from our food bank,” Flowers explained.

As a result of having the kitchen they are now able to provide all of the training right there. They plan to work with local agencies, teaching about nutrition and food preparation in the future.

“Oftentimes we get food donations here that are maybe a bit more obscure, products that people might not be used to handling. So we’ll have the resource now to teach agencies and show their clients how to cook those products. A lot of people that come to food pantries don’t know how to cook with ingredients,” Flowers shared.

“A lot of issues with obesity in populations that are in poverty are related to deserts. There’s a lack of access to food that is nutritional and wholesome for them, a lack of ability to prepare food and a lack of knowledge in those areas. So we are really undertaking those initiatives too, in partnership with agencies who can deliver those services,” Flowers continued.

You Can Make a Difference

Every dollar donated to the food bank gives them the opportunity to bring more products in, allowing them to take advantage of large surpluses in the grocery industry at a very low cost. For roughly 5 million dollars they can put 20 million dollars’ worth of food on the plates of people in need across the 8 counties in Northeast Ohio.

Every year they have over 2,000 volunteers that come in to help them sort that food.

“I want to encourage anyone to visit our website. Find all the ways that you can get involved,” Flowers said.

“I think we’ve built a great organization here that serves a lot of people. And I think that everyone who gets involved in this place gets served by it -the volunteers, board, staff…because when you get a chance to engage in an activity that’s bigger than you that helps people, then you’re really the one who’s benefiting,” Flowers said.

“I’m excited about 2012. We have a great team, a very healthy food bank, and the community has been very generous,” Flowers said.

To find out more about the ACRF and how you can help, please visit http://www.akroncantonfoodbank.org/

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