Feeding Medina County began as a countywide hunger task force formed several years ago in response to a growing number of home foreclosures in the area.
Volunteers came together to pack 50 to 100 bags for middle school students in the Medina City Schools and soon realized that there was also a hunger problem with the county’s senior citizens.
“That spurred the group to address both vulnerable populations — children and senior citizens,” says Sandy Hinkle, the nonprofit’s executive director.
With the support of Medina County Commissioner Pat Geissman, who took the initiative to start the hunger task force, Feeding Medina County was born. In the past five years, it has become a vital resource to help the people who are most in need get food to feed themselves and their families.
“We estimate that more than 19,000 people across our county are food insecure,” Hinkle says. “Food is the last thing they pay for. We estimate 20 percent of the children in Medina County are food insecure and don’t have a stable supply of food at home. We have an issue just like everybody else does. Somebody is going to go to bed hungry tonight. You just don’t know who they are.”
A difficult challenge
One of Hinkle’s jobs is to raise awareness of the challenges some Medina County residents face and do what she can to help them through the difficult times. Programs like Weekenders for Children and Staples for Seniors have helped boost FMC’s visibility and are making a difference.
But the problem continues to escalate. Instead of packing 50 to 100 bags for middle school students in one district, the organization now packs 1,000 bags for students in 27 of the county’s 30 schools. Families who participate get a bag with three meals and snack foods when they leave school on Friday.
“The biggest challenge without any speculation is how quickly we have grown and the amount of people we service in these two programs,” Hinkle says.
“Everything we do gets done in-house. But we have gotten to the point where we can’t rely on food that comes in from food drives to feed the children. When you are packing 1,000 bags every week, you have to make sure you have enough food for 1,000 children. I can’t count on getting 1,000 jars of peanut butter or 1,000 cans of tuna fish or soup and vegetables. We have gone to purchasing all the food for the Weekenders for Children program.”
In a year, that adds up to about $122,000. The Staples for Seniors program also began by serving about 50 people and has now grown to distribute roughly 400 bags a month. Both programs serve a vital need, but they also require dollars and volunteer hours to continue.
“As a nonprofit, we’re not selling anything,” Hinkle says. “We rely on financial donations that come in the door.”
Fortunately, FMC has built some strong partnerships in the community as well as a base of more than 250 volunteers to help it accomplish its mission.
The Weekenders for Children program has received rave reviews from those who have participated. A survey reports that 84 percent of respondents said the program did a lot to help their families and 71 percent said the contents in the bag they received were excellent.
“We know that children who don’t have enough nutrition don’t do as well in school,” Hinkle says. “Many of these parents trying to keep food in the house are working people. This program has relieved some of that stress level by providing food for the weekends. It’s what the food does for people.”
Feeding Medina County recently bought a truck with refrigeration and a lift gate that twice a week goes to the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank to pick up food orders for 23 other pantries in Medina County.
“The purpose for our truck being the transit service for all these places is making sure they all have the food they need when they have a distribution,” Hinkle says. “We do not charge for that. That’s another service we provide for free.”
The nine-member board of directors at Feeding Medina County has also begun considering options to find a larger space.
“Do we think about an addition?” Hinkle says. “Do we think about relocating? There’s no answer as to which way we’ll go. But we do know we have outgrown our space. I don’t think people ever envisioned we would grow to this capacity.” ●
How to reach: Feeding Medina County, (330) 421-4816 or www.feedingmedinacounty.org