When people want to support their local food bank or pantry, the first thing that comes to mind is nonperishable food items like canned soup and vegetables, pasta, rice, cereal and peanut butter.

But according to Meira Friedman, manager at the Cleveland Chesed Center in Cleveland Heights; Malik Perkins, public relations manager at the Mid-Ohio Foodbank in Grove City; and Karen Pozna, director of communications and special events at the Greater Cleveland Food Bank in Cleveland, food banks have other needs past food donations.

“To be honest, monetary donations are the best because for every dollar, we can help provide enough food for four nutritious meals,” Pozna said. “When receiving donations, we’re able to purchase the food we need. For example, with the pandemic, there was a dramatic need increase in the beginning, followed by supply chain issues. So, with money, we’re able to purchase food.”

Since many families that use food banks as a resource are also on food stamps or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, Perkins said hygiene products are another sought after item, since they can’t be bought with government food assistance.

If a community member wants to donate food, that is always welcome, but it’s best to inquire what is most needed, Friedman said.

“I would steer people towards healthy snacks like apple sauce, dried fruit and granola bars,” she said. “And in the winter, it would be nice for our clients to have hot drinks like teas and coffees. But we also offer more than just food. So, if people want to make a difference, I suggest people reach out to us directly. Sometimes, a client is looking for a specific item that doesn’t come through regular donations.”

No matter what type of donation it is, there is a direct community impact.

“Donations enable us to continue meeting the needs of our hungry neighbors,” Perkins noted. “We provide food to 680 partner agencies across our 20-county footprint.”

Friedman stated, “I think when the community gets involved and shows their support in whatever way they can, it gives us not only the material items we need but the knowledge that someone is looking out for them – that warm embrace the Jewish community is known for. We’re all connected. It’s important to know that, especially right now, financial insecurity or food insecurities know no boundaries.”

Community support is the cornerstone of any food bank’s ability to properly serve in-need populations, Pozna explained, whether that is through volunteering, monetary donations or advocacy efforts.

“We’re really lucky because Greater Cleveland is a very generous community and has been supportive in many ways,” she said. “And because of the support, we’ve been able to adapt and pivot quickly to meet the increased need and we see that need continuing for a while.”

Perkins said, “Mid-Ohio Food Collective has been serving customers in Eastern and Central Ohio for 40 years. Over the years, support has helped us reach people across our 20 county footprint and create new programs to addressing the evolving challenges of hunger.”

Specifically, with community education and advocacy, Friedman said it can be the difference between someone going hungry or feeling empowered to seek help.

“Educate that there is a need within our communities and the resources are available, and then talk about it,” Friedman said. “Talk to your friends about (food banks), the need and what we do. The hardest thing is when someone is in dire straights, they need a safe way to raise their hand. The more this work is visible and presented in a way that is dignified, the more normalized it is. That is what the Jewish community does, we’re here for each other.”

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