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Food For All

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by Patricia McGeever

More than 374,000 people in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati are living in poverty, many living paycheck to paycheck or relying on Social Security, and stretching those dollars to pay for the basics: housing, utilities and food. They find extra help at Catholic Charities Food for All drive-thru pantries, which are open one day a month in Adams, Brown, Clinton, Clermont, Highland and Hamilton counties from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. With one in Cincinnati’s West End, the rest are in rural areas where access to wholesome and healthy food is limited.

At a recent pantry day in Brown County, 193 families were served in two hours, but higher food costs have slashed the amount distributed.

“I used to be able to get all the families about 25 different items,” said April Hoak, Coordinator for the Food for All program. “I haven’t changed my budget. [Now] I can only get about 12 items—half of what I used to be able to [provide].”

Hoak places an order at the Freestore Foodbank, which delivers the food early in the morning. Rudy Grudier is one of the volunteers who sorts, bags and carries the groceries to individual cars. He works with the Highland County pantry located at Greater Life Assembly Church.

“Where we used to live, I [worked at a couple] food pantries, and I told my wife when we moved, the only thing I’m going to miss is the food pantries, because I enjoyed it,” said Grudier. Because he relies on Social Security, he also qualifies for assistance.

He directs traffic to ensure the more than 100 cars arrive and leave smoothly, which has enabled him to get to know many of their visitors. “I’ve had a few say ‘I’ve been sick’ if I haven’t seen them for a while,” said Grudier. “I usually ask them if they want someone to pray for them. If they do, I’ll pray for them before they leave.”

In addition to the blessing and bag of food, he sometimes hands out one and half inch medals portraying a cross surrounded by flames. “Looks like something a biker would have,” said Grudier, a self-proclaimed biker. He’s handed out over 2,000 medals in the last several years, many to “those coming through the food line.” When giving them to someone, he simply says, “I’d like to bless you today.”

Food options change every month, but families can expect to take home fresh produce, by far the most desired item; a protein, either meat, beans, nuts or peanut butter; canned goods and cereals. They also receive personal care items provided by Procter and Gamble. Sometimes the food runs out, although it doesn’t happen often, and Hoak then knows to order more for the next month.

“I’ve been collecting the data since 2016 … and I estimate a 10% increase [in need],” said Hoak. “There are going to be changes happening with SNAP benefits decreasing.” She knows she’ll need more food, as she knew when Covid began.

Before distributing food each month, volunteers gather in a circle and reconnect with each other, building on their fellowship, then pray for the work they’re about to do and the people they’re about to serve. Anyone is welcome to join, said Hoak. There is always room in her circle for more volunteers.

This article appeared in the April 2023 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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