TROY — While Ohio slowly returns to normal following a year of pandemic restrictions, the Troy Rec transformed into a mini-community food distribution center — a service that will continue as the pandemic dwindles.
Executive director Kelly Snyder said when the state ordered its shelter-in-place mandate, they continued to seek out ways to bridge the hunger gap for its youth and their families — serving 3,500 bags of supplemental food in 2020 to families in need.
In 2018, the Troy Rec began its once-a-week food distribution before the pandemic, and the need to feed Troy families has grown.
When the pandemic hit last spring, Snyder said students were home all day and her first thought was students sheltering in place would “eat their parents out of house and home.”
The Rec’s backpack program was then extended to the organization’s families and then any family in need — no questions asked. Snyder said the Rec received additional funding from The United Way of Miami County, Hartzell-Norris Trust, Crane Fund for Widows and Children, and the Miami County Foundation specifically for the COVID-relief food program.
“We had the entire game room —since there were no kids here —packed full of food and we were packing bags every day,” Snyder said.
Volunteers packed snack bags for teens and also provided lunch bags for students who may have missed the school district lunch drop-off schedule.
Snyder also said several local businesses chipped in to help the Rec with “mini-fundraisers.” Snyder said it was a joy to have local businesses support The Rec during their shutdown. She said businesses such as Haren’s Market donated funds from strawberry doughnuts during what would have been the week of the Troy Strawberry Festival and Ducky’s SnoBalls ice cream held a donation day, as well as many others that helped the Rec.
Snyder said the bags of simple snacks and microwavable meals stemmed from bridging the gap between feeding teens after they graduated elementary school.
Snyder said the food program would continue and is open to any family or student in need — no qualifications.
“The need for food is here to stay,” she said.
The Rec’s Friday backpack program started when a teen volunteer helped assemble food for elementary school students at a local church. The teen said he remembered getting a weekend food bag in elementary school. It was then that Snyder and her staff realized there was a need to help feed teens as well.
“We realized our teens, after fifth grade, there’s no safety net for them,” she said. “Every day they come in and they are hungry … so we realized then there wasn’t a safety net so we developed our own backpack program to take home on Fridays.”
Snyder said attendance had been steady since Troy students have returned to school in-person full-time after its e-learning and hybrid schedule was phased out. Attendance for the Rec’s sixth to 12th graders is averaging 50 students per day, down from its pre-pandemic average of around 80. Students continue to social distance as much as possible and staff assists with games and homework throughout the afternoon.
“That’s a good number and we can manage that,” she said. “It’s nice to see them back here being kids again.”
The Rec also stepped in to help students who struggled with online learning, providing tutors for homework. The Rec continues to offer tutoring for elementary and its older students. The Rec also helped students who lacked WiFi at home to access online learning at the center.
Snyder said the Rec’s revenue was hit by the pandemic, losing revenue from its fundraisers, preschool and daycare fees, program fees, rentals, and dance program receipts. Snyder said the board and its decisions throughout the last year have “weathered” the financial impact “pretty well.”
The Rec has opened back its full operations although youth after school attendance is down about 20-30 students from its pre-pandemic average of 80, Snyder said. Snyder said she can see students returning to normal with energy flooding into the center each day after school.
For more information about The Rec, visit www.troyrec.com. The city of Troy’s annual agency’s assistance included the Troy Rec for $29,000 in 2021.