Economy drives increased need at foodbanks even as donations drop

Tony Lange

As unemployment rates rise amid recent economic turmoil, the Center of Hope Christian Cupboard in Ravenna has seen its clientele triple over the last decade.

Roughly 130 families come to the center daily, compared to 40 to 45 people 10 years ago. Still, the center maintains its nearly 20-year routine, serving three multi-course meals daily and groceries to families in need five days a week. Anybody is welcome to dine as many times during the week as they want.

Kitchen manager Dotti Paltani said the center typically sees an increase during economic downturns.

“That number won’t go down, because the economy, the way it is. The people are increasing every year. Every day actually,” Paltani said. “We have people that in the past donated and are in need of food now. And they are very embarrassed to come in.”

Recently, Center of Hope manager Sister Denise Stiles served six food pantry clients. Three of them were first-timers, she said. And each of them had lost a job.

Young men who visit the center are very embarrassed because seeking food assistance isn’t how they’ve planned their lives to be, Sister Denise Stiles said.

Many people who stop in for the hot-meal program’s weekday lunch need the friendship of others at the center. They look out for each other, Paltani said. They also go for the feasts, which sometimes include steak or lobster donated from Giant Eagle and Red Lobster.

“We don’t like to be called a soup kitchen,” Paltani said. “They have a full-course meal for lunch. You and I would not eat what we serve. We would eat a sandwich and a Coke or something. They get a full-blown meal, because if there’s a lot of homeless, there’s a lot of people that only eat one meal a day where we serve.”

Not having food isn’t the only problem clients have, so the center concentrates on being accommodating, Sister Stiles said. New clients seeking groceries from the pantry are required to bring in a photo identification and proof of residence.

“Most of them, if they’ve been to any place else in the system will say, ‘and what else?’ That’s it,” Sister Stiles said, motioning her empty palms up in the air. “I had a new person in today and she brought her husband and they were just like, ‘Is this all we have to do?’ I said, ‘Yeah, this is all you have to do.’ I gave them the talk to only come in every 30 days, but don’t sit home and starve. We’re here, you know. We’ll feed you.”

Pantry volunteers schedule appointments to serve 20 families a day, providing them two pre-packed grocery bags with enough food to last a family of four as long as a week, Sister Stiles said. Usually, more than the expected number arrive.

Even with the growing clientele, the Center of Hope will sustain its high volume meals as long as donations come in, Paltani said.

“People are very kind to us, very generous,” she said. “We’re not going to say no to (clients). We’re going to give them food because we have it.”

Sister Stiles said a day may come when the center will not be able to fully provide its service.

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