In difficult economic times, it’s often difficult to fill your own pantry, let alone someone else’s. Rocky River residents, however, met the challenge of restocking the city assistance program’s bare cupboard by digging up overdue library books.
Rocky River Public Library Director of Marketing and Development Kitty Sommers recently recalled that at the end of January, the library received a call for help from the Rocky River Assistance program. Their food pantry was empty and they were looking for a hand in restocking.
“We responded by starting a “Food for Fines” program so that for every nonperishable item that patrons donated at the library, their fines were reduced by $1. As a result, the library collected approximately 4,300 cans of food that (have) filled this food bank. They were thrilled with our community partnership, and so are we. We are grateful to our patrons who were so generous,” said Sommers.
“It was amazing. We couldn’t believe how much came through,” stated Amy McDougal, Operations Director for the Food Bank, which is sponsored by the Rocky River Junior Women’s Club. McDougal said collections from the previous year, without Food for Fines, amounted to 1,500 or 1,600 items. She added that some people even held off paying their fines until the program kicked off in January. It ran for six weeks, ending in February.
McDougal said the assistance program serves about 70 households in the city, with the number rising over the holiday season. “Our numbers were up by about 10 to 15 households this year,” she stated.
Not everyone being assisted takes the option of visiting the food bank every other month, according to McDougal, who said this surprises her. To be eligible for help, a person or family must meet the financial guidelines that define the poverty level as described by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
McDougal explained that there are other services offered by the assistance program, including back-to-school gift cards from local businesses for children in grades K-12. During the holidays, all children in the program are matched with a sponsor, either private or a business, who purchases gifts for them.
“They were angels sent from Heaven,” said one mom of her adopt-a-family sponsors.
“We have an amazing group of volunteers,” continued McDougal, who said that the group sets up a holiday store at Beach Education Center each year, where clients can “shop” at no charge for themselves or for family gifts. She recalled a touching story from last year’s shop. “An older man was walking around and he got a huge smile on his face after he found a pair of gloves. He said ‘All I needed was a pair of gloves,’” recalled McDougal. She added that many of the program’s clients are seniors whose fixed incomes are not enough to meet their needs.
One of the best stories McDougal recalled involved a mother and her two daughters who were helped by the assistance program. “The girls are now older and help out as volunteers. One daughter talks to Girl Scout Troops about how she used to be in the program, and now wants to give back. This is really cool. It goes full circle,” she said.
Food is distributed in both November and December, then every other month. McDougal said the items come from churches, schools and businesses. Police and firefighters have also distributed batteries. The Junior Women’s Club also holds an annual fundraiser, “Sitting Pretty,” where picnic benches painted by local artists are auctioned off. She said last year’s event raised $10,000, all of which went to the program.
Anyone interested in helping the Rocky River Assistance Program, or in receiving confidential aid, can call the hotline at 216-556-5887.