A Family Affair

Mediaon December 7th, 2017Comments Off on A Family Affair

It was two days before Thanksgiving – the busiest time of the year for the Freestore Foodbank. Holiday food distribution was rapidly drawing to a close. The second floor of the Customer Connection Center was humming with activity. Volunteers steadily filed in and the room was quickly filling up. I hurried into the crowded room tugging my hat off and shaking my hair free. I looked around at the sea of faces, acutely aware of my wild hair, muddy boots and red, wind-burned cheeks. My eyes met the shy gaze of Suzanne Anderson as she stepped forward with her husband Jeff at her side, to shake my cold hands. As I gazed back at her, I was reassured by the kind eyes that smiled steadily back at me. As I smiled back I was struck by the gentleness and grace of my guests.  It didn’t matter that my boots were scuffed and my hair was wild. It was good to see them both and I was excited to hear about their connection to the Freestore Foodbank.

Jeff Anderson first got involved with the Freestore Foodbank over seven years ago. Jeff works for Procter and Gamble’s “professional group” that sells cleaning products to industrial customers such as restaurants, hotels and manufacturing plants and offers products, equipment, service and technical support to business customers. Since Procter and Gamble already had a close relationship with the Freestore Foodbank they started using Cincinnati COOKS! as a test kitchen. Jeff was asked to formalize the relationship. So he brought in products, equipment and ideas to engage the organization and began helping the program with cleaning and food safety.

Jeff was impressed by Cincinnati COOKS! “As I got to learn more about the program, I fell in love with it,” he remembers.  Jeff believes that Cincinnati COOKS! fulfills a very unique need in the community because of its mission to teach individuals critical skills. Jeff works closely with the chefs and students of the program. He visits Cincinnati COOKS! twice a week on behalf of Procter and Gamble. It is a mutually beneficial relationship because P&G is able to test their products and get feedback while Cincinnati COOKS! benefits from the constant inflow of new ideas, products and procedures.

Jeff personally supports Cincinnati COOKS! since he believes in the concept of giving individuals a “hand up” so they can become self-sufficient and independent.  He also serves on the COOKS! Committee along with some of the founding members such as Dick Rosenthal and Mike Kremzar. “I believe that Fred Diamond and Mike Kremzar who were the founders of Cincinnati COOKS! really made an effort to understand the issues and setbacks faced by individuals and worked to address them as best as they could. I am amazed by the program and all that it does to not only teach important culinary skills, but also give participants life skills that are required to make them into professionals,” Jeff observes.

Jeff’s wife, Suzanne who works for Ernst and Young was involved with the Freestore Foodbank even before they were married. She remembers coming to the warehouse to volunteer, mostly to assemble Power Packs. One year she organized the holiday food drive. Ernst and Young collected about 4,000 Mac and Cheese packs that year.  “We are very competitive and every store in the city was sold out of Mac and Cheese!” Suzanne remembers.

After they got married, the Freestore Foodbank became a “family affair”. Jeff never stops thinking about new ways to help Cincinnati COOKS! “We do not want participants to be forced to quit the program in order to make ends meet,” Jeff says. Fortunately, Cincinnati COOKS! students are provided support services such as uniforms, transportation, vouchers and childcare referrals as well as rent or utility assistance, when needed.

Suzanne supports his work by attending donor events and some of the COOKS! Cucina cooking classes. “Our experience has been extremely rewarding. It feels good to help an organization that is doing so much good for the community. I love the people who work there – the management, the chefs and the students. It is great to see what it does for them at a personal level – it is truly life-changing for almost all of them. The people you meet through the program open your eyes to the challenges they face.  It makes you realize how fortunate you are. I admire the vision of the people who started this and I appreciate what they did. It is very inspiring,” Suzanne comments.

Jeff and Suzanne have one five-year-old son, Carter. They are grateful for the opportunity to serve the community and to make a difference in the lives of their neighbors.  To donate to the Freestore Foodbank, click here.