By Sue Botos
The Rocky River Assistance Program, which provides food and support for more than 200 city residents in need, has been looking for a new address.
Since 1984, the program’s food pantry, run by the Rocky River Women’s Club, has been located in the Beach Education Center on Detroit Road. On the third Wednesday of each month, clients can come to pick up groceries, and more recently, shop in the “free store,” which offers clothing and other household goods.
Now, the group has until May to move and make way for eventual construction of a “professional development center” for the school district, which is headquartered in Beach.
“We’re working hard to find a spot. We just can’t let this (program) stop,” said Megan Alexander, past president of the Rocky River Women’s Club and member of the Assistance Program Committee. She said city officials and leaders from every church in the city are scrambling to come up with a new location for at least the food pantry. “That’s most important,” Alexander said.
Club member Jena Olsen said that ideally, the food pantry needs about 800 square feet and should be located on a bus route for easy access by clients. In addition, electrical outlets are required for three refrigerators and a freezer. “Hopefully, it would be rent-free,” Olsen added.
The school district currently does not charge the group to use its facilities. “It’s a beautiful thing the schools have done, donating the space rent-free. But realistically, we can’t expect that,” Alexander said.
A large area for packing and sorting would also be desirable for the pantry. Before each monthly pickup day, members of community groups like the Rocky River High School Key Club and the Scouts go through the food items in the Beach gym and arrange them for easier selection.
“The schools really fill the gym to the rim,” Alexander said, noting that both Goldwood Primary and Kensington Intermediate schools hold biannual food drives. She added that St. Christopher School donates food on an almost weekly basis. Rocky River Public Library’s Food for Fines program is also a big help.
“We are entirely dependent on community donations,” Alexander said. She noted that consignment stores such as the Apple Core and Trois Soeurs contribute clothes to the “store” on a regular basis, and organizations such as Rotary and the Rocky River Coterie will supply some funding.
A total of 70 families, accounting for 200 people, including 60 children, are currently on the assistance program client list. Alexander said this was down from a high of 90 families in 2008, when the recession first hit hard, but the number varies yearly.
“A lot of people are flabbergasted that it exists. They just don’t know about it,” she said.
Alexander said that clients served run the gamut from elderly to young families. “They’re not all unemployed. Every part of life is there,” she noted. She added that it’s not unusual for clients to give back by helping to distribute clothing and carry groceries for the elderly.
“The spirit is remarkable,” she noted.
Aside from food and clothing distribution, the assistance program runs “Adopt-a-Family” each Christmas. Client children make a wish list of three “reasonable” items, and community members purchase them. In addition, the group provides gift cards and winter coats to other family members. A school supply drive is held by the group each August.
Olsen noted that the same spirit that has supported the assistance program for so many years will now be needed to find new quarters. “We really need a community effort,” she stated.
(Update: As of Monday, Rocky River Assistance program board members have said they are close to coming to an agreement on a new location, but declined to name it, citing a few last-minute details to be worked out.)
The Rocky River Assistance Program can be reached at 216-556-5887.