Oberlin Community Services Expands


Lulu Jingyan Huang

Alan Mitchell, food distribution coordinator of Oberlin Community Services, moves green peppers from the stock room to the food pantry. The organization has expanded significantly in the last year, both in the range of programs it operates and the number of people it serves.

Melissa Harris, Editor-in-Chief

Oberlin Community Services is working on a new strategic plan called Planting Seeds for Growth and Sustainability to help reshape and expand its services to fit the needs of southern Lorain County communities.

Executive Director Cindy Andrews, a former member of OCS’s Board of Directors, took charge of OCS’s operations about a year ago. Prior to Andrews’ arrival, OCS supplied two forms of support: emergency assistance and food services. One of Andrews’ first plans was to reach out to the community, along with volunteer coordinators MaQwe Lawson and Erin Adair, OC ’14, to ask what else OCS could do for the people it serves.

Over 120 community members responded, requesting continuations of OCS-administered community gardening, food distribution, kids programs and emergency assistance. Community members also stressed a need for new services to help maintain economic sustainability.

The Board formulated new programs, such as General Education Development, a bill payers club, financial literacy classes and tutoring, to add to OCS’s services. This expansion in capability has been made possible by working with United Way of Greater Lorain County, a collection of different local organizations that shares its services in order to assist people within the greater Lorain County area.

According to the OCS annual report, casework has increased by 22.3 percent since last year, and the total number of people receiving assistance through food distribution services has risen by 44.5 percent.

Just as the services and the number of people that OCS helps continue to grow, so do the number of volunteers.

“Three hundred and ninetyseven people donated 12,575 hours [in the last year.] … The reason that we’re as successful as we are is because of the volunteers, and the volunteers [are] really what makes this organization what it is,” Andrews said.

Despite the strong volunteer support, Lawson said that the group is always in need of more help as it continues to grow and try to meet the significant rise in service requests.

“We’ll definitely need help planning for the garden, helping out in the garden,” said Lawson. “We have a [Little] Sprouts program in the garden that we need help coming up with ideas for.” He also said that there are always volunteers needed at OCS’s monthly food distributions, which take place the second Saturday of every month.

Andrews also said that tutors are needed as OCS begins to provide educational support.

“We need tutors on Mondays and Wednesdays for the schools. On Thursdays, we’ll be in need for tutors for the GED program,” said Andrews. College senior Ali Amiri is a frequent volunteer for OCS. He has worked in the OCS food pantry with its Meals on Wheels program, in its office and on social media efforts. One of his primary goals is to inform the College community of OCS’s events and services and to encourage students to volunteer.

“We need more involvement here; we need more prevalence,” said Amiri. “Oberlin Community Services is two things. First, it is one of the best organizations on campus that has a profound impact on the community. It has one of the largest, most powerful, personal impacts on the community every day. Simultaneously, it is also one of the least known organizations on this campus, so that’s what I really want to change.”

To help promote the organization, OCS did a social media blitz this past month. During one week in mid-February page likes increased by 43.3 percent — 3387.5 percent more new page likes than a typical week. The OCS Facebook page keeps volunteers and potential donors informed about upcoming events and opportunities for people to help the local community, according to Amiri.

To some in the community, OCS plays a critical role. Eduardo Rios, both a receiver of OCS services and a volunteer, said OCS helped him greatly.

“[OCS] has touched me a lot because it has helped me with my depression,” said Rios. “It keeps me with good people and stabilizes me. … Kathy Burns [the client services coordinator] has been helping me out with my crisis. Every time I need medical help, or when I get behind on my rent, or need help with my prescriptions, she helps me.”