CINCINNATI — When the COVID-19 economic crisis sent Greater Cincinnati families reeling in March 2020, Freestore Foodbank saw the fallout immediately.
“We saw a dramatic uptick in the amount of food that we were distributing and the services that we were providing,” Freestore Foodbank CEO Kurt Reiber said. “On average over the last 14 months we have provided over a million pounds of food every week throughout our 20-county service area.”
To help get food to families that need it, Freestore Foodbank and its network of 600 community partners have relied on the region’s more than 60 school-based food pantries, said Ann Viancourt, a community partnership manager at Freestore Foodbank who works directly with the school-based pantries.
For every $10 Buddy Card that someone purchases from LaRosa’s through June, 20, 2021, the pizzeria chain will contribute $5 to Freestore Foodbank in an effort to stock the shelves of school-based food pantries.
Each $10 Buddy Card features 14 offers to buy one large pizza and get a large cheese pizza for free either to pick up or dine in, and the cards are valid for one year.
“As a company, my father Buddy taught us – and really built into the DNA of the company years ago – the importance of giving back to the community,” said LaRosa’s CEO Michael LaRosa. “A few years ago, we decided that the area we want to impact the most is the needy youth in our community and their development.”
LaRosa’s has sold Buddy Cards to benefit Freestore Foodbank for years. But this is the first time the pizzeria chain has dedicated the promotion to the school pantry program, Viancourt said.
Keeping food on the table
“When school goes out in the late spring and summer, it naturally helps keep food on the table for these young children that are food insecure,” LaRosa said. “It just seemed like a natural thing to make this happen.”
Eight out of 10 children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals in Freestore Foodbank’s 20-county service area, Reiber said, and many of them count on school meals for the nutrition they need.
“The school pantry is meant to serve the entire family, not just the students or the children,” Viancourt said. “We provide shelf-stable food, frozen foods like frozen meat and protein options and then fresh produce as well, in addition to health and hygiene items.”
Freestore Foodbank had to spend much more money than usual to purchase everything families have needed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Reiber said.
“During the time that we would have spent about $800,000 on food, we spent over $4 million on food,” he said. “This Buddy Card sale would just go a long ways towards helping us restock those shelves.”
Although LaRosa’s has not set a firm goal for the number of Buddy Cards it hopes to sell by June 20, LaRosa said he would love to sell 20,000 cards resulting in a $100,000 contribution to Freestore Foodbank.
That would mean a great deal to Freestore Foodbank, Reiber said, because he expects Greater Cincinnati families will continue to need extra help for some time to come.
“Things are starting to get back to some semblance of normalcy," he said. "We see some of the health restrictions being lifted, some of the vaccines being more fully rolled out. But this is not like a light switch where we're going to things back on and everything will be back to normal.”
More information about Freestore Foodbank is available online. The organization is welcoming volunteers back to help, and there is information on the website about that, too.
Customers can purchase Buddy Cards from LaRosa’s in person at LaRosa’s pizzerias or by adding a Buddy Card to an order through the LaRosa’s app, at larosas.com or by calling 513-347-1111 or 1-888-LAROSAS. LaRosa’s also will bring a newly purchased Buddy Card with a delivery order.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on problems we need to address. Poverty is an important focus for Lucy and for WCPO 9. To reach Lucy, email email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.