Community helps by providing holiday food

Melody Wachowski

Women prepare meals while volunteering for the Center of Hope in Ravenna located on state Route 59. The Center of Hope is giving away turkeys this Thanksgiving for those who cannot afford their own. DAVID ANTHONY RANUCCI | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: John Proppe

Hard times and the holidays bring more and more people to food centers for lunches and groceries each year. Families, single parents and retirees often find themselves with no money left at the end of the month for food.

To meet their needs, Kent Social Services and the Center of Hope provide various types of assistance.

Helping hands

The amount of work and money that goes into running these organizations depends primarily on the community through volunteers and donations.

Debby Missimi, director of food services for Family and Community Services Inc., has been working with the Center of Hope and Kent Social Services for several years.

The shelters receive food from Kent State, Hiram College and Ohio State University that they use to provide hot meals and groceries to people living in Kent and Ravenna, Missimi said.

When donations are running low, the food centers have to buy food for the week from the Food and Drug Administration, which charges a handling fee of 10 cents per pound. For one week, each center may pick up approximately 3,000 pounds of food, costing almost $300.

With the holidays rapidly approaching, food centers find it challenging to stretch their supplies for the regular daily meals and must do everything they can to get the community involved.

Student support

Tim White, a volunteer at the Red Cross in Portage County, organized a youth program to get high school and college students involved with the community.

White and several members of the Kent State Red Cross Club set up 36 boxes in the residence halls to collect non-perishable food items.

“These service projects are a great way to get students involved with the community,” White said. “We all work together to get the job done.”

Laura Russo, president of the Kent State Red Cross Club, said she was glad White came to her with the project.

“We were looking for new ways to get involved beyond just the blood drives,” Russo said. “This project was very easy to set up. The administration was very helpful in letting us use the residence halls as collection places.”

The food was dropped off at the Center of Hope in Ravenna yesterday, along with donations collected at Southeast High School, which will be used to create boxes of food for families who are unable to afford a Thanksgiving meal.

“The Center of Hope is great because anyone in the community that wants a hot meal or groceries can get it,” Russo said.

Greeks giving

Students from Eta Sigma Gamma are also getting involved with the community as a service project. Collection boxes for food, clothing and personal hygiene items will be on the first floor of White Hall until Nov. 30, said Jessica Shreve, the president of the organization.

All of the clothing collected will go to the County Clothing Center, which offers gently used clothing at no cost. The food and personal hygiene items will go to Violet’s Cupboard, which serves people living with HIV/AIDS and their families.

Calculating compassion

The cost of preparing a Thanksgiving meal can be anywhere from $25 to $100, depending on the size of the family, Missimi said.

“This is our busiest time of year, second only to summer,” she said. “Many people are able to scrape through the year, living paycheck to paycheck, but the extra money is just not there when it comes to holiday dinners. Many of these people are working full-time, minimum-wage jobs, but they still don’t have enough money for food.”

The hot meal programs run Monday through Friday at 11:30 a.m. The centers also have pantries that provide bags of groceries for families and individuals who make appointments.

In 2005 the Center of Hope and Kent Social Services served approximately 92,000 hot meals and gave away 3,549 holiday food baskets, which included turkeys or hams.

Open arms

Darrell Fullman, director of the Center of Hope, said the most important thing they can give to the people who come into the center, other than food, is open arms and ears.

“We are very clear about our mission: feed the hungry, and be a friend to people in need,” Fullman said. “We do a lot of listening, and that is perhaps the most important part of what we do.”

Many of the people who come to the Center of Hope for lunch are on first name basis with the volunteers.

“By the end of the month, when people are running low on money and food stamps, we may serve up to 150 people for lunch,” she said.

“The economy is so uncertain right now, which brings in a lot of new people every month. All of us know someone who is hungry. Food is such a basic need, but so often it is the last thing on peoples’ lists of expenses.”

Contact social services reporter Melody Wachowski at [email protected].