When our neighbors are facing food shortages 1,450 pounds of potatoes donated to the Northeast Emergency Distribution Services (NEEDS) are like gold, but where do you store and how do you care for so many potatoes? Dee Cohen, a volunteer and co-Director of Food Operations at NEEDS, can describe in great detail how to care for 1,450 pounds of potatoes. From December of 2016 thru April 2017, Dee cared for 1,450 pounds of potatoes in her garage. As Dee tells her story, she reminds you that the time it took to care for those potatoes and the mere loss of one garage parking space was pittance compared to the joy she saw in feeding many hungry families.
NEEDS is a community of 25 churches and civic organizations whose mission it is to do God’s work through caring for their neighbors by providing basic emergency assistance. Each church or organization is represented by a volunteer that sits on the NEEDS board. Six years ago, as a recent retiree, Dee Cohen became the NEEDS board volunteer representing Ascension Lutheran Church. The first year Dee spent understanding the workings of NEEDS, by year three she was a Volunteer Bagger, and more recently she’s taken on the role of NEEDS co-Director of Food Operations.
NEEDS does not receive government support. The NEEDS board oversees an active foodbank, as well as provides neighbors-in-need with housing and utility payment assistance. Foodbank items are donated through churches, schools, businesses and your neighbors. Payment assistance comes from monetary donations made directly to NEEDS. During the year NEEDS supports local schools through school supply and clothing drives. NEEDS serves more than 2,500 people in northeastern Hamilton County
As a food bank, NEEDS distributes canned goods, frozen foods, fresh dairy items, personal hygiene items, fresh bakery items and produce. Twice weekly a NEEDS board member purchases perishable items using cash from monetary donations.
Potatoes are a highly valued provision for food banks, they are packed with potassium, fiber, Vitamin C, B6, and iron. More over they are a very versatile vegetable. It was through St. Xavier High School’s generosity that NEEDS, and Dee Cohen, found themselves with 1,450 pounds of potatoes. In December of 2016, while Dee was at St. X picking-up collected and donated canned goods for NEEDS, Matt Kemper, a department head, mentioned that the school had “some” potatoes. Dee was thrilled to accept the donation knowing that potatoes are part of the weekly perishable purchases. The cash saved from a potato donation could be used in other areas of NEEDS such as its neighbor-in-need housing and payment assistance.
Yet, Dee never expected the donation to be so generous! “When I heard about the potatoes, my first thought was the “saved potato money” could help with eviction notices or utility cut offs,” Dee explained. “NEEDs feeds our hungry neighbors, but we also make sure families can stay in their homes and pay their bills.”
As the co-Director of Food Operations, Dee has many responsibilities some of which are to assure the pantry is adequately stocked and that necessary perishables are purchased on a timely basis. Dee also checks expiration dates as well as makes sure the pantry is organized, neat and free of litter.
Once NEEDS received the 1,450 pounds of potatoes it was up to Dee to determine storage and make sure that not one potato rotted, lest the donation loose any of its immense value. While the pantry at Kenwood Baptist is large, it wasn’t large enough. Renting storage space was out of the question, as again it would take away funds that could be used to help a local family in need.
As a NEEDS volunteer, generosity and compassion comes naturally to Dee. Without much ado, Dee and her husband, retired pharmacist Sidney Cohen, volunteered to store the potatoes in their garage. The potatoes were stored on flats and her two-car garage became a one-car garage. Potatoes can be stored for many months as long as they don’t get too hot or too cold. Since the storage was occurring during winter and spring months, Dee only had to make sure her garage didn’t get cold enough so as to freeze the potatoes. If the temperature dropped, Dee warmed the garage with portable heaters. These potatoes were as good as gold to Dee Cohen and to NEEDS – she was determined to make them last as long as she could.
Dee experienced great satisfaction in saving, storing and then distributing the potatoes to hungry neighbors. “The joy on the faces of NEEDs clients’ to the bag of potatoes was always great. Potatoes are filling, children love them and there are so many ways potatoes feed families.” Dee added, “as a volunteer at NEEDS I’ve notice things happen just at the right time. Sometimes it even feels like miracles occur through NEEDS.”
Dee Cohen has many stories to tell of the NEEDS miracles that happen while she has volunteered. “One time I received a blanket and hadn’t put it out to just be taken at will, but saved it. Then one day while helping a woman client, I took out the blanket to see if she needed it. The woman was thrilled. Her house had just burned down and they’d lost everything. This one blanket was so needed on this one day I offered it.”
Mostly Dee is very mindful and vocal about the kindness that has created the institution of NEEDS. “I’m so grateful for the opportunity to serve at NEEDS.” Further she said, “we, at NEEDS, cannot thank enough the schools, businesses, churches, civic groups, and the many individuals who support NEEDS and the many volunteers who make NEEDS work. The smiles we receive when serving lets us how NEEDS is also greatly appreciated by our clients.”
NEEDS is an all-volunteer cooperative located in the Kenwood Baptist Church, 8341 Kenwood Road, 45236 and is open Tuesday and Thursdays from 9 am – 1 pm. It is the mission of the Northeast Emergency Distribution Service (NEEDS) to provide emergency assistance to the neediest families in the Northeast Cincinnati community. Donations of canned goods and other items are always accepted at the NEEDS food pantry. Monetary gifts can be mailed to: NEEDS, 8341 Kenwood Road, Cincinnati, Ohio 45236. Truly, during the summer when you are fortunate to share good times with your neighbors, please consider your neighbors who are in need with a donation to NEEDS.
For pick-up of donated items or to ask questions please call (513) 891-0850 (NEEDS) or checkout NEEDS website: http://www.cincyneeds.org/