CLEVELAND — The holiday season is always a great reminder of just how important it is to help our neighbors in need - and here in Northeast Ohio there is a great need that only continues to grow. 1 in 6 people in our community struggle to put food on the table.
In our latest story in our ongoing "Power of Inspiration" series, 3News Contributor Matt Kaulig and anchor Jay Crawford got a first-hand look at the incredible work being done at the Greater Cleveland Food Bank and how their expanded new facility is helping even more people here in our own backyard.
"We always want people to remember what we're here for," President and CEO Kristin Warzocha said to Matt and Jay. "And this is our mission - We're here to ensure that everyone in our communities [have] the nutritious food they need every day."
And as Jay and Matt found out, that mission is plain to see inside every inch of the organization's new two hunded thousand square foot facility on Coit Road bordering Cleveland's Glennville and Collinwood neighborhoods.
"We ran out of space [in our old building] much more quickly than we imagined, because of the skyrocketing need, frankly," Warzocha explained. "We broke ground last April. We moved in in October. And we hit our goal of being able to operate out of this facility before the Thanksgiving holiday, which was critical as this is one of our busiest times of year."
The organization plans to next renovate their old facility on South Waterloo into a community resource center complete with a large family friendly food choice pantry.
The expanded footprint here in their new space doubles their previous dry and frozen food storage capacity, offers a more efficient distribution process and also boasts one of the largest production kitchens in the region.
"This kitchen gives us the capacity to do almost 20,000 meals a day....Warzocha told Matt and Jay. "And we've got both volunteers and staff who are gonna be making meals in this kitchen."
The organization serves about 50 million meals each year, serving clients in Cuyahoga, Ashtabula, Lake, Geauga, Ashland and Richland counties in collaboration with 1,000 partner agencies and programs. Warzocha says, the need continues to grow.
"A lot of people are struggling right now, right? Higher food costs, higher fuel costs, and rent. Utilities are really having an impact," she said. "And so first and foremost, they should know they're not alone. And there is help available. We have a help center that's open. We've got full-time staff on the phones."
It’s that full time staff and an army of dedicated volunteers that keep this place going – people like retiree Marci Zabell who told Jay she loves volunteering her time.
"I feel good that I can help. I know that there are so many people in need... and I really feel that my helping, it's actually does something right here at the center of where it's happening. They need volunteers!" she urged.
So, who better to pitch in and lend a helping hand than Matt and Jay? Terryn Mathis, Warehouse Repack Lead walked the duo through learning how to check the food donations for damage and to make sure they are all within their experation dates.
Although both Jay and Matt had a little trouble seeing the sell-by dates without their reading glasses, they got right to work, helping sort everything from cereal to canned goods to proteins, getting just a small taste of the incredible work being done here to make a real difference here in Northeast Ohio.
"Every dollar donated helps us provide more food for three nutritious meals," she said. "So we'll put this donation to good work and hopefully we'll inspire others at the same time."