Brian Banks saw the pop-up food pantry in downtown Akron through a chef's eyes.

“I’ll either make a soup out of them, or I can cook them by themselves with either beef or chicken stock and … put them over rice,” he said of canned lentils he was loading into a large sack that would soon get heavy with canned food and fresh produce.

Banks, 55, a single father who is visually impaired and is a former cook in New York City, was picking up food for himself and his two teenage children at the temporary pantry — set up outside, near the hospital’s downtown campus on Thursday.

The food distribution was a trial run of a new effort by Akron Children’s Hospital and the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank.

Good food is good health, officials of both organizations say.

Beginning next year, the organizations hope to set up monthly pop-up pantries at two or three locations that lack traditional food distribution centers, said Jill Oldham, director of network partners and programs at the food bank.

Akron Children’s Hospital patient families who have indicated they have worries about having enough food will be invited to the pop-up distributions.

A total of 400 families of patients in the hospital's network were invited — via automated phone calls — to Thursday’s distribution. Members of nearly 40 of the families showed up.

Oldham took the turnout in stride, saying “This is symbolic of our work ahead.”

She said once the hospital and the food bank identify locations for the monthly pop-ups, word-of-mouth will help publicize them.

“People will start telling other people about it,” she said.

Thursday also was about representatives of the hospital and the food bank learning the ropes of a pop-up pantry, she said.

Banks, the father, who lives in Akron’s east side and receives disability benefits, said the amount he receives in state food assistance falls far short of what he needs to feed two growing teens.

“I think this is a very intelligent move,” he said of the pop-up. “Children’s Hospital is concerned about healthy children, and some families can’t afford what other families can.”

Also, Banks said, some people who might not otherwise go to a pantry may feel encouraged to go to one that’s operated in conjunction with a hospital.

“It’s a hospital offering nutritional food … the hospital is saying it’s interested in the wellness of your kids.”

 

Identifying need

 

For two years, the hospital’s pediatric offices have asked parents or guardians of patients to answer “yes” or “no” to eight questions on a “How Are You” form.

One of the items asks people if in the previous 12 months they were worried food would run out before they got money to buy more. Another asks if they actually ran out of food in the last 12 months. About 10 percent of lower-income patients answered “yes” to one or both of these questions.

Other questions ask about issues such as utility bills and housing.

The goal is to find out what difficulties may be affecting a family’s health and work to connect them with community resources, said Steven Spalding, vice president of population health at Akron Children’s Hospital.

Those invited Thursday were among those who answered "yes" to one of the food questions.

In the eight counties served by the food bank, 1 in 7 people (adults and children) will struggle with hunger this year, said Raven Gayheart, spokeswoman for the food bank. The eight Northeast counties include Summit, Medina, Portage, Stark and Wayne counties.

Gayheart noted that September is Hunger Action Month, which encourages people to take action across the United States.

“We’re recognizing the importance of connecting with community partners to help our families with the things they need,” said Joel Davidson, a pediatrician in the hospital’s network.

The food bank used its new smaller truck — obtained through a grant from United Healthcare — for the pop-up.

Asia Davis, 31, who lives on Akron’s west side, was among members of patient families who showed up Thursday. She brought along her two young children; her husband, Anthony, was working.

“This is out in the community … this is a comfortable, friendly atmosphere, and at the same time you get to see the baseball field, and plus, it’s a beautiful day,” she said.

Charla Woods, 45, who lives in Akron’s Middlebury neighborhood and works full time, said she hasn’t gone to food pantries recently.

She got a phone message inviting her to Thursday’s event, and thought the timing was perfect. Her kids are growing and are eating more, she said as she picked up a bag of apples to put in the big blue sack supplied by the pantry’s organizers.

 

Reach Katie Byard at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her @KatieByardABJ on Twitter or on Facebook.