Agencies Meet Food Needs through Unique Programs, 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 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 has held three so far this year, with the most recent being on March 8 at the Colerain Township Administration Complex. St. Xavier High School and St. Ursula Academy have also served as distribution sites. 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 CMA donors, are connected by the love of God and as members of the body of Christ.”
Future Farmers Families distributions are scheduled for March 19 at St. Xavier, April 5 at Xavier University, and April 12 at the Colerain site.
In Dayton, volunteers and staff at Catholic Social Services Choice Food Pantry haven’t let the snow and cold put a damper on their food distribution efforts. Back in late November, at the first sign of inclement weather, Mike Hoendorf said they realized pantry services could be impacted, whether it was by Foodbank deliveries not being able to be dropped off, or COVID restrictions on the number of people in the building. Rather than turn clients away, the staff came up with the idea of filling drawstring to go bags with essential food items, such as peanut butter, rice, and fruit, to get clients through until they could make a regular monthly pantry visit.
The bags have since taken off, said 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 effects 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.”
The Catholic Ministries Appeal (CMA) distributes 21% of its funds in support of Catholic Charities Southwestern Ohio and Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley.