For more than 40 years, an 18-acre lot on Collinwood’s Coit Road stood vacant beside a shuttering railroad. On April 14, a white tent appeared. Blue and green balloons danced beneath a cerulean sky. Banners proclaimed, “Future Home of Our New Distribution Center,” on a chain-link fence.
Greater Cleveland Food Bank CEO and president Kristin Warzocha joined in a symbolic turning of the dirt — something she’s been looking forward to since discussions for the new distribution center began in 2018.
“It was a very exciting moment,” Warzocha says. “This expansion project signifies a big step forward.”
Before 2020, the Greater Cleveland Food Bank served more than 300,000 families a year with its partners. But last year, they distributed nine million additional pounds of food to more than 400,000 within the six-county service area, roughly one in four residents.
“The need for food in our community has skyrocketed,” Warzocha says, “and at this point, we are completely out of space. We’re using off-site storage, we’re leasing semitrailers for storage and we have on numerous occasions had to turn food away, because we just don’t have anywhere to put it.”
At 197,000 square feet, the new building will encompass a larger cooler space, ideal for perishable, nutritious produce, and serve 12.5 million more meals per year. “We want to make sure that we have the capacity to provide more prepared meals as needed in the future,” Warzocha says. “It’s clear to all of us now just how many people were living on the edge of food insecurity.”
Five minutes away on South Waterloo Road, the food bank’s current distribution center will be renovated into a client service center, a food pantry for residents and a place nonprofit partners can collaborate and address underlying causes of food insecurity, including housing, health care and employment.
“Hunger is a symptom of another problem,” Warzocha says. “If we can get at the root causes and empower a client with the information they need and the connections they need to be able to address those other issues, that’s really one of the ways of resolving hunger in the future.”
Celebration giving way to construction, the new distribution center will not be finished until summer 2022, though Warzocha hopes to start storing items inside by winter 2021. “Right now, our top priority is to move as quickly as we can,” she says.