LORAIN — An hour before Wednesday’s weekly dinner at the Catholic Charities Lorain Family Center, the waiting room is full. About 50 clients, including a few children and elderly people, sit at tables conversing while a young boy plays chess.
Lorain Schools, which serves meals to children, are out for most of the summer, making July and August the busiest months at the center, which serves poor people. And with the economy struggling, demand is up.
David Boyce said the center — which served about 28,000 meals last year to approximately 3,300 clients — has seen an approximately 10 percent increase in demand since the recession, which officially began in December 2007.
“Lorain does have a high poverty rate, a high unemployment rate, and that’s reflected in the number of people we feed every day as well as the number of people who come to our (food) pantry,” he said. “The need’s been increasing, (and) we try to anticipate that as we look toward the future.”
On Wednesdays, the food pantry provides baked goods and produce from area grocery stores whose shelf life has been exhausted but remain edible. Clients, who are called alphabetically, can choose eight items.
“If your name starts with an F or G, you can come in,” Karen Leadbetter, center food service coordinator, told clients. “There’s some really nice peaches over here if you want them.”
In addition to the weekly distribution, clients can pick up food once a month from a “choice pantry” with amounts based upon family size.
“It’s a very dignified way of giving them an opportunity to take those foods instead of just giving them a grocery bag,” Boyce said. “The choice pantry gives them a say in the food they get to bring home.”
The food is donated to the shelter through Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio, which helped feed 77,000 people in Crawford, Erie, Huron and Lorain counties last year, according to its website. That’s a 134 percent increase since 2006.
“They have a chance to get produce that maybe they normally wouldn’t go to a store and purchase,” Boyce said of clients, many of whose food stamps run out before the end of the month. “We get a variety. It just depends on what the stores turn in.”
Boyce said the majority of clients are between the ages of 20 and 45. Nearly all are Lorain County residents, and most are unemployed, although some work part time.
In addition to food, the center also provides anger management, job training and musical therapy classes, as well as free monthly medical exams and a free eyeglass program. The center — part of the Diocese of Cleveland — has an annual budget of about $290,000 and a staff of two full-time and two part-time employees. The staff includes a resources coordinator who connects clients with drug rehabilitation, heating assistance, housing or psychiatric programs.
“We want to make it kind of a one-stop place for individuals to come in and achieve a variety of different kinds of services,” Boyce said. “We really do a lot of other kinds of things that will help individuals meet some of their basic needs.”
Boyce said the center works closely with area providers such as the Neighborhood House Association, the Nord Center and the Salvation Army. The center also relies on about 700 volunteers including about 50 regulars.
Boyce, 58, worked in education publishing before becoming director in 2008. While a completely different environment, he said the transition has been smooth and he enjoys the work despite its challenging nature.
“Our mission is still to treat everybody with respect and dignity that walks through these doors and do our best to meet the needs they have,” he said. “We’re just going to keep plugging away and doing the best we can to serve these men and women.”
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.