The Greater Cleveland Food Bank and local community volunteers put fresh produce in the hands of families that need it at the Shaker CommUnity Market on Sept. 28.
In a partnership between the Onaway PTO and the GCFB, the Shaker community was provided with access to school resources, community services, nutrition and health resources, exercise opportunities and fresh produce. The produce was distributed at the Onaway parking lot, while games and community organizations were set up on the field shared by Onaway and Woodbury.
Stacey Hren, who helped organize the event, said that the CommUnity Market is a continuation of the annual Martin Luther King day of service. Another CommUnity Market is planned for Oct. 26, and Hren said that it will look largely the same.
“We met in April, really to talk about how the [Greater Cleveland] food bank might be able to help the school district on a micro-level. Like, in each school, what we could do for families with the support of the food bank. That conversation very quickly evolved into how we could use the food bank’s mobile pantry program,” Hren said.
“Events like this happen all over the country — we are lucky to have the GCFB in our area,” said Keith Langford, family and community engagement coordinator for Shaker Schools. Langford helped organize the CommUnity Market. “The GCFB has different outreach components and the pantry is one of the outreach components.”
Staci Hall, who works at the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, said that the mobile pantry is one of the three types of produce distributions that the GCFB organizes.
“For this event, we want to make sure that it’s very community-oriented,” Hall said, “so that when neighbors are here, they are able to be connected to other resources in the community.”
At the market, over 30 different organizations, including the Student Group on Race Relations, Bellefaire JCB, and the Shaker Libraries, shared their resources. Boy Scouts of America helped younger attendees create boats with wooden skewers, pool noodles and paper to make racing boats for the rain gutter regatta. An Onaway librarian taught yoga on the soccer field, and high schoolers in Youth Ending Hunger club helped pass out produce to members of the community.
“It was just really a huge group effort,” Hren said. “We have the all resources we need for all of us. We just can provide forums for people to tap into those.”
“I think it’s great it brings together so many members of the community for a good cause, and it gives organizations at the high school a great place to educate the community about what we do,” SGORR member Annie Stibora said.
Community members, teachers and students helped set up tables and pass out produce. Even high school sports teams came to help out.
Sophomore Spencer Blatley volunteered on behalf of the SHHS Basketball team. “Our coach contacted us and said, ‘come by, help out,’” he said. “I had some spare time, and stopped by and figured I’d help hand out some food.”
“I was blown away by the students,” Hren said. “That was a bright spot for me of the whole night. The Youth Ending Hunger kids and SGORR — and there were kids inside of the watermelon boxes handing watermelons to people. Young people seemed to understand this in a way that is sometimes hard for adults to grasp.”
Reactions from adult community members were positive, Hren said.
“I think it’s beautiful,” said Anita Hall, who works for Shaker Schools transportation and has lived in Shaker for 47 years.
“It’s such a creative way to think about both food insecurity and community. It’s a way to bring everyone together and recognize that we’re all part of the same community, whether or not we have enough, and to recognize that there are people in the community that don’t,” said Ellen Wurtzel, a professor at Oberlin College and a Shaker parent.
“Wholeheartedly, this is wonderful,” said Billie Morgan, parent liaison for the Shaker District. “The people coming together, you know, getting vegetables — the vegetables are free. Isn’t that great?”
SGORR member Kevin LaMonica said, “I do think this event really benefits [community members] in a sense that it’s a non-shameful place, where they can get support from their community in addition to their well being.”
“People that aren’t able to get to the nutrients they need — fresh produce — they’ll be able to get it here,” Woodbury nurse Stephanie Smith said.
“We do have some work to do,” Hren said. “The more controversial issue is how we communicate about this event, because in some ways it’s hard to explain.”
“We need to spread the word in our community: This is an awesome event, it’s an awesome opportunity,” Woodbury teacher Lyndon Brooks said.
“In the future, if anyone out there knows anyone who could benefit, you yourself can pick up a bag of carrots and potatoes and take them to people who need them,” Hren said.
Observing the children playing in the center of the market, Wurtzel said, “A community that plays together can talk together.”
Kanella Basilion contributed art for this story.