The Neighborhood Alliance continues to hammer away at the hunger problem in Lorain County.
Alicia Foss, president, and CEO of the nonprofit that helps out the hungry and homeless in the county, slammed a sledgehammer into a white brick wall April 14 in what used to be women’s locker room at the former Elyria YMCA, 265 Washington Ave., to kick off construction of a new senior nutrition kitchen.
The kitchen, when completed, will allow the organization to triple the number of meals it can produce, reduce the cost per meal by 40 percent, while also centralizing its current five-kitchen setup into one.
Neighborhood Alliance not only serves senior home meals but provides food for those staying at the Haven Center homeless shelter, which it also runs.
Neighborhood Alliance’s Neighborhood Nutrition Kitchen, which will be built in the former Elyria YMCA building at 265 Washington, is expected to be completed by October. (Michael Fitzpatrick – The Morning Journal).
Neighborhood Alliance currently provides home-delivered meals to seniors in need in 80 percent of the county.
And the demand continues to grow, Foss said.
The organization currently fields 40 to 50 calls a week from seniors who want to enroll in the program but must be put on a waitlist.
“They are waiting on us to bring them food, so this neighborhood nutrition kitchen is going to help us do that,” Foss said.
Before the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the home delivery program had a waiting list of 600, she said.
Through a modification of the delivery schedule and donations, Neighborhood Alliance was able to clear the waitlist by the end of 2020.
But the demand for meal deliveries continues to grow as more and more residents find themselves in financial distress, Foss said.
The kitchen is expected to cost just over $1 million and be completed by October.
Lorain County commissioners provided $500,000 toward the project.
“We said this is a really important project for the community, for the whole county. It’s going to impact so many families. It’s a sad thing to know that one out of four seniors has a concern that their food is going to run out.”
— Lorain County Commissioner Matt Lundy
Commission President Matt Lundy, who attended the April 14 ceremony, said the project was an important one when considering that a recent survey by the Office on Aging revealed that one in four Lorain County seniors are concerned they will run short of food.
“We said this is a really important project for the community, for the whole county,” Lundy said. “It’s going to impact so many families.
“It’s a sad thing to know that one out of four seniors has a concern that their food is going to run out.”
Elyria Mayor Frank Whitfield, who also attended the event, said he recently did a ride-along with a Neighborhood Alliance employee who was delivering meals.
“It was amazing; it was like he was family,” Whitfield said of the warm reception the employee received from those receiving the meals.
That simple human interaction is one of the benefits of the program, Whitfield said.
“You saw that a lot of our elderly population is living in isolation, and that was the only guest they were seeing all day,” he said. “So, the work you do expands beyond food, but that sense of community that we need, as well.”
Whitfield also lauded Neighborhood Alliance for moving some of its operations into the former YMCA building.
The building had been vacant for 14 years before it was gifted in early 2020 to Neighborhood Alliance.
Sledgehammers were given away on April 14 at a groundbreaking ceremony for Neighborhood Alliance’s Neighborhood Nutrition Kitchen. (Michael Fitzpatrick – The Morning Journal)
“Transforming old spaces and finding new uses for them,” Whitfield said. “And what better purpose than to serve our seniors and serve our community fresh and nutritious food.”
The kitchen renovation is just the first of many projects Neighborhood Alliance is undertaking.
The organization is renovating the Haven Center, 1536 E. 30th St. in Lorain.
All three floors will be renovated for shelter and emergency services for men, women and families as part of the project, which includes a 9,236-square-foot extension of the building that will add a center courtyard and playground.
“We are really looking forward to getting this build (of the kitchen) underground, and then the expansion of the shelter as well so that we can serve more people in the homeless community as well,” Foss said.