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Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank

Toddler girl stands next to father in line at foodbank
Photo by Joe Levack

Do you know where your next meal is coming from? For thousands of people in Summit County, the answer is no.

Now more than ever, families need help putting food on the table, and Akron Community Foundation is stepping up to the plate through grants to organizations like the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. 

In 2011, the food bank distributed more than 19.4 million pounds of food to residents in Summit and the surrounding counties – enough to provide nearly 15 million meals, according to Director of Development Josie McElroy. Out of that food, millions of pounds were fresh products given immediately to more than 450 local charities and food pantries, such as OPEN M in Akron.

Organizations like OPEN M receive fresh foods through the food bank's Direct Distribution Program, which allows individuals and families to access fresh, perishable foods before they expire. By working together with OPEN M and other pantries, the food bank acts as a link between available food sources and hungry people of all ages in the community.

"Missing a meal has an immediate impact on people, no matter what age," Josie said. "Children need nutrition for continued development, and adults need nutritious food to stay safe and productive on the job."

Volunteers at OPEN M said the country's recession has led to a steep increase in the number of people requesting food.

"We've seen a lot of new people now, people we haven't seen in the past," said OPEN M Volunteer Manager Tiffany Stahl. "We've begun seeing people of a (higher) class level – a lot of people who haven't come before – and they're really in need of it."

As of March 2012, 7.8 percent of Summit County residents were unemployed; this number has remained high since the middle of 2008 and is a major reason for the increase in food bank clients.

"We're seeing many people come in who have lost their jobs in the last year and are just scraping to make it," said OPEN M Operating Manager David King.

One Akron resident named Brett knows exactly what that's like. He was laid off from his job as a machinist last fall and hasn't been able to find work. To support his five children, Brett comes to OPEN M every month to get fresh produce and bread.

"This economy is something else," he said. "That was the first time (getting laid off) ever happened to me."

At OPEN M's "Mountain of Food Giveaway" in April, Brett brought his two youngest kids with him – a 3-year-old daughter and 9-month-old son. His daughter helped load food into their bag and waited patiently for her grandmother and aunt to arrive for their own food. It was the grandmother who told Brett about OPEN M in the first place, he said.

"We come every month. It's a big help," he said. "I really appreciate it; it makes you appreciate the small things."

Families like Brett's are exactly who the food bank and OPEN M hope to help with the Rapid Food Distribution Program and other similar efforts. By offering fresh food like potatoes, bread, orange juice and tomatoes, the agencies can help keep Summit County families healthy. 

Much of this produce is grown locally in places like Crown Point Ecology Center in Bath Township, which has been the recipient of grants totaling more than $280,000 from Akron Community Foundation since 1994. Crown Point grows a "food bank farm" that annually donates more than 20,000 pounds of fresh, organic produce to the food bank.

As the number of people needing assistance continues to rise, the fresh food given to the food bank from Crown Point and other sources becomes even more critical. To help meet that pressing need, Akron Community Foundation last year gave a $25,000 grant to support the Direct Distribution Program. It's this kind of support from donors that Josie said keeps the food bank serving the community.

"Support from Akron Community Foundation and the entire community has an immediate impact," she said. "The food goes through our facility so quickly, but it begins with the support of the donors and ends on the tables of people in our community."

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