‘A win for the community.’ Food pantry’s summer lunch program gets lift from local company

‘A win for the community.’ Food pantry’s summer lunch program gets lift from local company

About heatlhy eating about food that is good for you

Eat a variety of vegetables and fruit, preferably fresh, frozen or canned (without added sugar). Choose whole grain foods, such as breads and cereals made with whole wheat, rye, barley, amaranth, quinoa or oats. Add beans, lentils or other legumes to soups, stews and casseroles. Choose low-fat dairy and non-dairy sources of protein, such as fortified soy beverage, lower fat yoghurt or low fat milk.

Blanca Santos, 26, right and Yolany Hernandez, 34, left, who are both employed with DNO Produce, work to prepare free lunches at Mid-Ohio Food Collective. DNO Produce loans its workers to the Mid-Ohio Food Collective each summer. They get paid their full salary during the business' off-season.

Each day during the summer months, Yolany Hernandez is in the Mid-Ohio Food Collective’s Grove City kitchen, making food for children’s summer meals as lovingly as she would for her own five children.

“It’s been a beautiful experience,” said Hernandez, 34. “I feel happy to do the work. I do it with a lot of love.”

Hernandez, of the North Side, is one of nine DNO Produce employees who moonlight at the collective to help with its summer food program. As part of the program, the collective prepares approximately 150,000 meals from June to August, feeding about 1,100 children a day, Sha-Wana Pressley-Ranson, director of prepared foods at the Mid-Ohio Food Collective.

Wearing hairnets, aprons and gloves, she and the others work alongside Mid-Ohio Food Collective employees to scoop out the dish for future meals. On a recent morning, it was rice, chicken and veggies scooped into food containers that will be packed into bags to go to the sites where children will eat them.

The partnership started last summer and was a win-win for all involved, said Alex DiNovo, president of the produce distribution company, which is located on the city’s East Side.

The employees get full-time pay during the company’s off season, and the collective gets more consistent, trained help to feed hundreds of area children.

The added help is also important because food insecurity has risen this year in central Ohio. In June, the Mid-Ohio Food Collective announced that it has seen an “unprecedented” need and record demand across its 680 partner sites in 20 nearby counties, with a 40% increase in visits since the same time last year.

‘A win for the community’

The collective’s busy time is the summer, which is the slowest time for the produce company, since it mostly provides meals to schools.

“The timing works out perfectly,” DiNovo said. “It’s been a win for us, I think it’s been a win for the Mid-Ohio Food Collective. It’s certainly been a win for the community.”

Alex DiNovo, president of DNO, a company that loans its workers to the Mid-Ohio Food Collective each summer. They get paid their full salary during the business' off-season and make free kids' lunches.

Prior to DNO workers going to work at the food collective, DiNovo would often have to give employees fewer hours of work and pay each week, and would lose some to other jobs when work slowed for the summer.

“We lose them, we lose that experience,” he said.

And the training and onboarding that come with employee turnover can be costly, especially since DNO production employees need eight weeks of training when they begin, said Marissa Dake, vice president of brand and people at the company.

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Then, last year, DiNovo decided to pay the company’s employees for 40 hours of work, even if they didn’t work that much, during the slow summer months in hopes of retaining them. During the same time, he was talking to the collective, which DNO also donates food to, and realized its greater demand for labor during the summer.

So, a portion of the associates DiNovo guaranteed 40 hours of pay now spend about 32 hours a week preparing summer lunches for 30 local food sites.

“They can sustain a living but also they’re doing meaningful work for the community,” he said. “It’s important for companies to step up and do the right thing.”

Yolany Hernandez, 34, who is employed with DNO Produce, plugs in the heated bags for the free lunches at Mid-Ohio Food Collective.

Continuity in the work

When people begin working at DNO, Dake talks to them about the importance of all kids having healthy, safe and nutritious food, and the company’s role in that. Since the meals they help prepare at the collective also feed children, there’s a great continuity in the work, she said.

The employees’ skills and training make a big difference for the collective, Pressley-Ranson said. When volunteers and temporary workers come in, there is training on food safety and knife skills that must be completed, but DNO employees have already been trained, upping the efficiency of preparing the meals, she said.

“It was such a huge help last year,” Pressley-Ranson said of the partnership, which both parties hope to continue in years to come. “We look forward to them coming everyday.”

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The collective began providing summer lunches on a small scale to two groups at the Reeb Avenue Center in 2018, but as the demand grew, it branched out. Now, one of its specialties is hot lunches, Pressley-Ranson said, which she’s heard from those at the sites that children are much more likely to eat than cold lunches.

This is the first year the collective has been able to provide hot meals for all five days of the week at four of its local sites. It’s also the first year it has been able to provide all fresh fruit for breakfasts, thanks to DNO employees’ chopping skills.

The organization prepares the meals then stores them in insulated bags with plug-in heating devices inside so they stay hot as drivers take them out to summer lunch program meal sites in Newark, Westerville, Hilliard and other places around the area.

DNO Produce workers prepare meals for the Mid-Ohio Food Collective.

The program is funded in part by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Summer Food Service Program and the monthly lunch menus, completed a few weeks before the start of each month, are carefully planned to incorporate a protein, whole grain, fruit, vegetable and milk, per USDA requirements, Pressley-Ranson said. Breakfast and snacks follow different guidelines. Other funding for summer lunches comes from corporate donors, individual donors and the collective’s operating fund.

The importance of summer meals

Summer food programs are important because, while children may get free or reduced cost lunches and other meals at school during the year, they don’t have that access when schools are closed.

That means they may go hungry. More than 450,000 children in Ohio struggle with hunger, according to the Children’s Hunger Alliance, and access gets more difficult when school’s out.

In 2021, children ate 5.9 million summer meals in Ohio, Judy Mobley, president and CEO of the alliance, told the Dispatch in 2022.

Gabby Clavel, who is employed with DNO Produce, cuts melon to add to free lunches for Mid-Ohio Food Collective.

So far this year, DNO has donated 1,462 hours of skilled labor to the collective, Dake said, valued at $27,559. By the end of the program on Aug. 11, the projected total donation is expected to be 2,211 hours.

“These babies have to eat and we have to prepare the meals, so we want to do it with the most efficiency, skill and safety,” Pressley-Ranson said.

dking@dispatch.com

@DanaeKing

Source: dispatch.com

Kerri Waldron

My name is Kerri Waldron and I am an avid healthy lifestyle participant who lives by proper nutrition and keeping active. One of the things I love best is to get to where I am going by walking every chance I get. If you want to feel great with renewed energy, you have to practice good nutrition and stay active.

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