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Freestore Foodbank Breaks Ground On New Facility For Job Training, Distribution

Jolene Almendarez

The Freestore Foodbank broke ground on a new facility Wednesday afternoon after raising nearly $30 million for it throughout the past year. It's part of the Growing Beyond Hunger Campaign, which strives to address food insecurity at its root causes through job training and other assistive services.

"Many people are living paycheck-to-paycheck," says Freestore Foodbank President and CEO Kurt Reiber. "And we felt that this is the opportune time for us to help them grow beyond hunger. We know that Freestore is doing more than just food outreach and food distribution. We have supportive services, we have stabilization services, we have workforce development initiatives. We have basically set it up so that we are surrounding the families with stabilizing services, allow them to stabilize their lives -- move from crisis to stability, but then also make sure that they're not going to fall back."

The Freestore Foodbank has a 600-pantry network in the Tri-State area and saw a 59% increase in needs for services during the pandemic. The organization says it continues to see a year-by-year increase in people seeking help, and has served 245,000 individuals in the last year, 80,000 of whom are children.

Credit Jolene Almendarez / WVXU
The Freestore Foodbank broke ground on a new facility Wednesday afternoon after raising nearly $30 million for it throughout the past year.

The new 195,000-square foot building will combine the current distribution centers at Wilder and Mayerson to a more centralized area. Set to open in winter of 2022, it will have additional classroom space for two of its major job training programs, Cincinnati COOKS! and LIFT the TriState.

LIFT the TriState trains people for warehouse work, by providing forklift operation practice and certification.

Cincinnati COOKS! trains people to work in commercial kitchens.

Martha McGinnis is a chef and trainer in the program. She says it's a second-chance job training program that offers people who are formerly incarcerated and people who've experienced homelessness a chance at creating new employment skills.

"It's free, it doesn't cost them anything," she said. "Plus, we have support. Sometimes they need help with rent, sometimes they need help with utilities. And they can apply for that." 

McGinnis teaches people how to bake in the program, which ranges from basics, like cookies, to more complex desserts.

"There's a lot of pride, which is great to see. So many of them are really, really happy to be there. We started a new class this week, and I had a student come up to me and he said, 'Thank you so much... I never knew there was a difference between butter and margarine.' It's a simple thing. But he's like, 'I learned something today.' "

The new facility will also expand the food bank's refrigeration capacity so families can have more access to fresh food.

"It will almost quadruple the amount of space we have as far as freezer and refrigeration space, providing more nutritious food to the families … which is really a lifeblood for them to really make sure that they're eating healthy and being healthy," Reiber said. 

The project is about $3 million short of its $30 million goal for the new facility, but hosted the groundbreaking because, they said, they believe the community and local sponsors will be able to get them to their goal soon.

The new facility will be located at 3401 River Road, less than five miles from Downtown Cincinnati. For more information about the Freestore Foodbank, visit their website at FreestoreFoodBank.org.

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.