Agencies Meet Food Needs through Unique Programs and Partnerships
By Sister Eileen Connelly
Thanks to collaboration, unique programs, and support from donors and volunteers, Catholic Charities Southwestern Ohio (CCSWO) and Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley (CSSMV) have continued to meet the needs of hungry individuals and families during the pandemic.
April Hoak, Food for All coordinator for CCSWO, said the agency was approached last year by Cincinnati’s Freestore Foodbank to partner with them in local distribution of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farmers to Families Food Boxes. The USDA established the program in cooperation with farmers, ranchers, food processers and distributors, and non-profit organizations to ensure all Americans have had fresh and wholesome food during COVID-19.
“The Freestore reached out to us since we’re familiar with mobile food distribution and had faith we could make this happen in our community,” Hoak explained.
Catholic Charities organized drive-thru distribution of the Farmers to Families Food Boxes on six dates in 2020, and held three so far in 2021. Between 1,200 and 1,400 boxes containing a variety of packaged and fresh food have been given away on each date, Hoak said.
What’s unique about Farmers to Families is that no identification is required, and there are no income or family member restrictions as with other programs. “There are no questions asked. It’s a very dignified process,” Hoak noted. “We trust that people will do the right thing with the food and share it with neighbors or family members who need help. People have been so grateful and said, ‘Thank you. Bless you for doing this.’”
“I’m so proud and grateful that we’re involved,” she added. “Volunteers from the local Catholic community have come out to help. It’s a reminder to me that all of us, from our clients to our donors, are connected by the love of God and as members of the body of Christ.”
In Dayton, volunteers and staff came up with the idea of filling drawstring to go bags with essential food items, such as peanut butter, rice, and fruit, to give to clients until they can make a regular monthly pantry visit.
The bags have taken off, said Mike Hoendorf, parish and community relations coordinator for CSSMV, thanks to enthusiastic support from neighboring parishes and schools. St. Charles Borromeo, St. Albert, and Incarnation, along with Chaminade Julienne and Carroll high schools have made bags and/or collected supplies. Approximately 400 bags have been assembled so far, with the goal of having 500 in stock at the pantry.
“People have definitely been appreciative of the bags on days when there is bad weather,” Hoendorf said. “The bags are easy to carry and give them their essentials.”
An added bonus, he explained, is that the to go bags have stimulated additional conversation about parish engagement in CSSMV’s efforts. “This gives the parishes something concrete they can do and addresses a very specific need. It’s really given the parishes the opportunity to get a glimpse of our everyday operations and how our work affects our clients,” Hoendorf explained. “I think it helps the parishes and all our donors understand how important their support is to our mission. That’s something we’re very grateful for.”
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