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Pilot Program to Rescue Food Is Helping the Hungry

photo of Stacy Soulimiotis
Among the presenters at the third Hunger Dialogue were representatives from Solon-based Perfectly Imperfect Produce and Stacy Soulimiotis (second from right) of the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland.

Close to two million Ohioans are affected by food insecurity. A group gathered at Walsh University over the weekend to talk about ways to help them. Jennifer Vokoun is director of Walsh’s Food Design Institute, which was formed in 2017 after the first two conferences.

“We have college students who have the ability to conduct research. We have innovation spaces. We have design students. And all of those students can work with community partners – particularly those who may not have the resources – to address food insecurity.”

Vokoun adds that students themselves can also be affected by food insecurity, and there is a movement to combat hunger on campus by enrolling eligible students for benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 

A new app
At the conference, Stacy Soulimiotis -- director of the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland’s Food Rescue program -- presented a new app that is being piloted here and in three other cities.

It connects volunteers who want to transport excess goods from restaurants and grocery stores to places like food pantries and hot meal programs. She says it’s been very effective since launching last year.

“We have rescued 200,000 pounds of food. And our partners that receive it, honestly a lot of those families can't live without it. This is an opportunity for them to get fresh produce that they wouldn't typically get at a lot of the food pantries. They are actually asking me, 'do we have opportunities to get more?'”

Soulimiotis adds that the average rescue takes about an hour. Other areas piloting the app include San Francisco and Northern Virginia. The specific app for Cleveland is titled "Hunger Network Food Rescue."

The Ohio conference is part of the larger, national Universities Fighting World Hunger group. Organizers hope to make the dialogues an annual event – which will move around the state -- starting next year, when the event will be hosted at Bowling Green State University.

Kabir Bhatia joined WKSU as a Reporter/Producer and weekend host in 2010. While a Kent State student, Bhatia served as a WKSU student assistant, working in the newsroom and for production.