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Akron food pantry buys new van to continue serving community after old vehicle was stolen

The Good Neighbors food pantry says demand for food usually increases in November and December.

AKRON, Ohio — After their van was stolen in October, the Good Neighbors Food Pantry in Akron had to get creative, renting U-Hauls and using volunteers' vehicles to transport the thousands of pounds of food they provide for the community. 

But paying for regular U-Haul trips was adding up, and with no leads on their old van, they decided to buy another one, a used vehicle that they've painted with their logo and phone number on the side. 

On Tuesday morning, with the fresh coat of paint, the volunteers at the pantry drove to the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, picking up more than 3,000 pounds of food including turkeys, pancake mix, and beauty items like shampoo. 

"Wonderful," George Camilletti, manager at Good Neighbors, said of having a new van. "It was costing us around $60 to $90 a day for a U-Haul, besides the inconvenience of having to go to U-Haul, make out the paper work and get it, then return it."

Having a reliable vehicle is important to the food pantry, especially this time of year. Camilletti says they've been serving about 800 families per month. 

"It's a higher demand usually November and December because of the holidays," he explained. "And of course, inflation, the price of gasoline, and of course people want to buy gifts for the family and the kids, maybe the food runs a little short."

Around Thanksgiving, Camilletti said they gave out about 100 turkeys, and they're gearing up again for the Christmas rush. 

"The car breaks down, if the hours are cut, somebody is sick, they come to us," he said, explaining many of their clients are short-term.

The Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank is also seeing a rise in demand during the holiday season. Colleen Benson, senior director of development at the foodbank, said the current need is critical. 

"This year, we've served more than two million people throughout the year, and in recent months demand is up 14% over last year at the same time," she told 3News. "Of course, during the holiday season, we know so many people are struggling with very critical decisions as to whether to put food on their tables, presents under the tree, paying holiday or heating bills."

The impacts of inflation are also being felt, not only by the families these resources serve, but by the foodbanks themselves. 

"Our costs for fuel are up 44% over last year," Benson said. "While retail donations of food are down from previous years, we've had to spend more of our dollars to purchase food, ao all costs are up for the foodbank and for those being served by the foodbank."

Good Neighbors is installing security cameras to ensure their new van is safe. For those who want to help support them, Camilletti said they are always accepting monetary donations so they can continue buying food. 

At the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, donors have agreed to match dollar-for-dollar every donation that comes in on Thursday, Dec. 1. On Dec. 17, they also have a "Selfless Elf 5K."

"We really treasure our community who always comes together, who always gives back," Benson said. "For those who are struggling and who are in need, it just means the world."

If you need food assistance, Camilletti recommended calling 211 to connect with services, and Benson said you can call the foodbank directly at (330) 535-6900.

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