Cleveland’s growing movement to ensure access to fresh, healthy foods for children and families and address food insecurity in urban neighborhoods just got a $1.2 million boost. Last month, Rite Aid Healthy Futures announced that its new Strengthening Cities initiative would support three Cleveland food access programs, the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, The FARE Project (Food Access Raises Everyone), and Food Strong.
According to Feeding America, a national nonprofit fighting hunger, nearly 14 percent of Cuyahoga County is food insecure. The Greater Cleveland Food Bank also reported that it served 87,000 new people in its fiscal year 2021, as the pandemic exacerbated existing community challenges.
The Land recently caught up with the grant recipients about how their new programs would strengthen food access for Cleveland residents.
Food Access Raises Everyone
As the largest recipient, The FARE Project will receive $650,000. A broad-based community initiative designed to connect and support organizations and individuals who are improving access to food in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, FARE will use the funding to support community-led food hubs in three Cleveland neighborhoods, Clark-Fulton, Hough, and St. Clair-Superior, through its Growing the Next Generation project.
“Community-led food hubs” are neighborhood spaces that are organized and led by members of the community where youth and families can access fresh food through urban gardens, said Morgan Taggart, Director of FARE. Participants the programs can also participate in health, wellness and nutrition programming and connect to other resources.
FARE will also use the funds to create and expand garden spaces that grow food for children and youth, and they’ll develop new programming with some partners to serve youth and improve their health outcomes.
“We are looking forward to working together with Rite Aid’s Healthy Futures and our community members and grassroots organizations over the next two years,” Taggart said. “That will help address the critical racial health disparities that persist in our neighborhoods and improve outcomes for youth and families in Cleveland.”
Taggart said the grant provides FARE the opportunity to bring new leadership to the table and elevate community leaders. “We want to put the folks who see these issues every day in their communities in the driver’s seat to come up with innovative solutions that will address these complex problems in Cleveland neighborhoods,” she said.
Greater Cleveland Food Bank
The Food Bank will use its $400,000 grant to support its Children’s Nutrition Initiative. Its goal is to expand their school food pantries, the Backpacks for Kids program that provides meals to kids in need, especially on weekends, and the weekly food truck distribution of grab-and-go meals.
Diana Davet, director of programs for the food bank, said the grant will be used to help families stock up on dry goods like cereal and peanut butter as well as fresh produce and perishable items. Clevelanders are seeing the impact of inflation and this will help supplement their household income, she said.
Prior to the pandemic, the Backpacks for Kids program ran at 56 sites. Currently, it’s running at 85 sites, and the Food Bank has received requests from eight other sites that would serve 1,700 additional children. Previously, the agency didn’t have the capacity to add that many, but the Healthy Futures grant will allow them to expand to these sites.
The funding will also be used to support the mobile food truck operations run by the Food Bank’s Outreach and Benefits Team during the summer and early fall months. The truck services high-need areas like Hough and Clark-Fulton. Ordered prior to the pandemic, a new truck equipped with refrigerator and freezer units should arrive in May.
Additionally, the food bank will increase the types of food items available at the 45 school markets that they operate within the Cleveland schools. “Those expanded and enhanced programs will help us pinpoint some of the areas where we know there is a lot more food inequity than in the outer ring suburbs, in neighborhoods where children and families don’t have easy access to every-day nutritious food in an easy fashion,” Davet said.
For more information, visit the Food Bank’s website or contact Diane Davet at 216/738-2136.
The third recipient, Food Strong, will receive $120,000 to support its Youth Garden and Culinary Arts Program. The program, aimed at teaching students to grow and use fresh fruits and vegetables, will allow the group to expand opportunities to new school sites, build onsite learning gardens, and provide weekly classes at the schools.
Sara Continenza is founder and executive director of Food Strong, whose mission is to strengthen and empower communities through providing fresh, local foods. She said she’s energized about the project, which will allow Food Strong to hire a new lead educator, Kellee Etheridge, a chief with a background as a culinary arts educator. Etheridge will take over a lot of the classes that Continenza was teaching and will work out of a new office in Tremont.
“We’re excited to grow our team and expand our ability to reach more people,” said Continenza.
Food Strong performs a lot of nutritious eating demonstrations, too, and sends food home with the students and attendees at various events. The grant will enable them to pay for more food, which can be expensive. They will also expand their programming to four new schools in the Clark-Fulton, St. Clair-Superior, and West Park neighborhoods as well as the city of East Cleveland.
“The grant allows us to offer our courses weekly, year-round and provide it in schools that might not otherwise be able to afford us,” Continenza said. “We will be able to grow more gardens and implement more culinary arts activities, and we will continue to fold in an entrepreneurial component, too.”
Known as the Rite Aid Foundation from 2001 until 2022, Rite Aid rebranded the initiative to Healthy Futures this year. Strengthening Cities is a two-year, $10 million initiative focused on Cleveland and five other cities in the US. For more information visit https://foundation.riteaid.com/.
This project is part of Connecting the Dots between Race and Health, a project of Ideastream Public Media funded by The Dr. Donald J. Goodman and Ruth Weber Goodman Philanthropic Fund of The Cleveland Foundation.