NORDONIA HILLS — Joyce Hunt says she hears a lot of touching stories from clients who depend on the Northfield Center food pantry she heads, but one older woman with an extra reason to fear getting sick especially affected her.
"She had her little grandson with her who, I think, is all of 5 and she’s had him since he was an infant," said Hunt, executive director of the Emergency Assistance Center. "There is just that look of concern, of fear, you know because these grandparents, they’re amazing to me because they still have to maintain everything."
With the pandemic and shutdowns, April brought some mixed news for the EAC.
Hunt said that the EAC actually saw a sharp drop in the number of clients served in April when compared to March, when there was a spike in the last two weeks. She said this could be due to clients having some extra money leading to them not coming to the EAC to pick up food as scheduled.
"Statistically, when clients begin to receive income tax returns, they often forego their food appointment," said Hunt. "Many are of the belief that if they have extra money, they do not want to take from others who may not. Couple this with those who also received their stimulus check. This is even more money in their pockets, which often leads to a false sense of security."
Hunt added, however, that the situation is unprecedented in her experience and she does not know what it means for the future.
"It largely depends on if our clients get called back to work or not," she said. "I have no prior data to pull from. All that I can say is that we are ready to serve them."
Hunt said that in March, the EAC added 79 individuals in 26 families for a total of 941 clients in 301 families. She estimated that on average, the EAC serves around 850 clients in a month.
"It was alarming because it was really the last two weeks we saw this increase," she said. "People were panicked."
In April, the EAC saw new people come in but saw an overall drop to 747 individuals in 255 households. Included among these individuals, said Hunt, were 179 senior citizens and 241 children.
But Hunt said the pandemic cost it several food drives, as well, including a May 4-8 effort in the schools, the annual Letter Carriers Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive on May 9 and a food drive during the canceled Memorial Day parade.
Hunt said the parade drive would have been a first.
"I think if it was promoted well, it would have been very successful," she said. "However, we do know that the letter carrier drive and anything done within our school system have been super. It’s a lot, literally getting thousands of pounds donated to us. So without having that, that critically hurts our efforts."
And based on experience, she said, the window of opportunity for a successful food drive may be closing for a few months.
"It’s a little concerning because for every food pantry, it is like Death Valley in the summer time because no one in any large quantity tends to donate," she said.
The EAC is still receiving donations from area residents in both food and money. Some of the money is used to purchase food from the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank, but deals are also sought from area grocery stores.
"A lot of people drop stuff off there, and we have a lot of food and that’s great," said Stow resident and EAC volunteer Ed Davidian. "But with a little bit of cash, we can buy the things we need."
Hunt said Davidian has been instrumental in securing a supply of much-needed perishable items.
"He has been such a huge, huge help to us," she said.
Davidian, 72, began volunteering at the EAC on March 19.
"I just walked in," he said. "But I’ve been there quite a bit since because that’s quite a program."
Davidian, who owned and operated Country Kitchens restaurants in Summit, Stark and Portage counties, said he put together a seven-day menu of simple recipes to give to clients.
"But what I noticed is we gave away a lot of canned goods, but no milk, eggs — basic staples," said Davidian.
He decided to do something about that and contacted managers at the Macedonia and Stow Walmart stores for help.
"Now it’s a part of the program," he said. "[Clients will] get a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs, a loaf of bread and usually margarine instead of butter because margarine is one-third the price."
Davidian said all that costs $5, which he initially paid out of his own pocket, but Hunt insists he provide receipts for reimbursement.
"With the food we give you, it should get you through the seven days, five to seven days, depending on the size of the family," said Davidian.
Hunt said that precautions inside the EAC have increased as the pandemic has progressed. In March, donors and clients were asked to remain outside the building. Staff members would go out and retrieve items and deliver prepackaged food bundles, as well as hygiene items, including toilet paper, bar soap, toothpaste and tooth brushes.
Those coming inside, principally staff and volunteers, have their temperatures immediately taken and everyone wears gloves. Hunt said that now, everyone inside is also required to wear masks and additional precautions are taken to keep staff separated from donors and clients for everyone’s protection.
In addition, only 10 people are allowed inside the EAC at a time, including Hunt and staff member Kim Myers and up to eight volunteers, to maintain distance.
Hunt said the estimated 17 regular volunteers are typically enough right now.
"Because we can’t have a whole lot of people here, it’s working out," she said.
The EAC is at 9199 Olde Eight Road, across the street from St. Barnabas Church. It is open Mondays to Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. It serves residents in Northfield Center, Macedonia, Northfield Village, Sagamore Hills, Twinsburg, Twinsburg Township, Reminderville, Hudson, Boston Heights, Peninsula and Richfield.
For more information, including to seek help, donate or volunteer, go to https://teacenter.org/home.aspx or call 330-467-7945.
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at 330-541-9431, email@example.com or @JeffSaunders_RP.