Cleveland food pantry prepares to reopen after month of bare shelves

CLEVELAND, Ohio — After closing its doors for a month, a popular Cleveland food pantry is bracing to fully reopen.

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Thursday, Bigman’s Family Center on Kinsman Road was serving produce, meat and boxed items to a line of cars. It was the first time many of the clients had been to the pantry since early to mid-August.

“I’m very grateful. That’s why I’m here,” Tanya Wynn said.

Donnie Allen added, “I was going to other food banks. But this is the best one, to me, in Cleveland because they give out a variety of food.”

The food pantry’s shelves have been bare since Aug. 15, when the Greater Cleveland Food Bank instructed staff and volunteers to dispose of its entire inventory. The previous week, a compliance team conducted a site visit, and the Food Bank says it found serious pest and cleanliness issues.

Pastor Pamela Brown, who runs Let’s Pray Ministry and serves as the pantry’s manager, told News 5 that the staff was instructed to throw everything away as a distribution line was forming outside the building.

“To see that amount of food in the dumpster, it was heartbreaking. I mean… it brought tears to my eyes,” said James “Johnny G” Griffin.

Griffin said a member of his team, A Hundred Million and One Restless Souls, Inc., captured video of the once overflowing dumpster picked over by people desperate for food assistance.

“It was devastating,” Brown said.

In the weeks since News 5 aired a story about the situation, Bigman’s Family Center has worked with the Food Bank to implement more pest control and cleaning measures.

The Greater Cleveland Food Bank issued the following statement:

As you know, the food pantry at Bigman’s Family Center was temporarily closed while they worked to address the cleanliness and pest control issues.  The Food Bank is happy to announce that as of September 5, 2023, after a satisfactory site visit, they can reopen.  The Food Bank is working with the agency to replenish their food supply and they have a delivery order scheduled to arrive on Friday, tomorrow. It is our understanding that Bigman’s pantry will be open this Saturday.

Brown said community members called the Food Bank by the dozens to request the reopening of Bigman’s Family Center as soon as possible. The temporary shutdown of the pantry’s 3 times a week distributions came after the Food Bank saw record-breaking demand for food assistance in June.

“I’m out here making it the best way I can, surviving. And this helps me; it helps me and my daughter a lot,” said Denise Scott, who was picking up food from the pantry Thursday.

Brown said the Food Bank agreed to help the pantry repair its broken walk-in cooler, cover extermination fees and clean up the entire aging building. She estimates the endeavor would have cost the pantry $10,000.

“They are trying to make amends the best way they can. And that’s a beautiful thing. And the biggest thing is helping the people. As you saw, they were waiting since 8 o’clock,” she said.

Bigman’s Family Center served at least 289 people during its Thursday distribution. After a Food Bank delivery on Friday, the pantry will hold its first full distribution of canned goods on Saturday.

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