“We have a responsibility to make sure clients have the food they need. It’s a responsibility I learned at John Carroll.”
Kristin Warzocha is the president and CEO for the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, Northeast Ohio’s largest hunger relief organization. She directs the organization’s efforts to provide nutritious food and support to more than 1,000 programmatic partners that serve Northeast Ohioans in six counties. Warzocha has been with the Food Bank since 2000. She served most recently as vice president of external affairs, overseeing fundraising, communications, advocacy, SNAP outreach and volunteer resources for the organization.
Q: Why did you attend JCU?
A: I spent most of my childhood in Westerville, Ohio, just outside of Columbus. When I started looking at colleges, my parents suggested I stay in state. I knew I wanted a smaller, liberal arts school so I could feel more engaged and get to know people. I had a lot of friends who went to The Ohio State University and it just seemed so huge to me. I wanted something that felt more like family. I really liked the idea of a Jesuit education. Once I went to Carroll to visit and met some other students, I was sold. The campus was beautiful. People were friendly. It was really about this warm feeling I had … being surrounded by people who know who you are and want you to be successful.
Q: What story or experience best reflects your time at JCU?
A: I had always done a lot of volunteer work with my family, but it was at John Carroll where I got involved with the social service sector and met people who were really struggling. I had the chance to go on a spring break trip to a Catholic Worker Farm in West Virginia. The farm was an outpost for the homeless from Washington D.C. I also served as president of a service sorority, started volunteering at different hot meal sites and ended up driving a group of students every Saturday morning down to St. Herman’s House of Hospitality to make and serve lunch to the homeless. I fell in love with service, with Northeast Ohio, and with another student who is now my husband! I knew I wanted to stay here when I graduated and make my career in the nonprofit space. Those service experiences are when I first realized I can make a difference. That we can all make a difference.
Q: What was the most valuable learning/lesson from JCU that shaped you personally or professionally?
A: There were a couple of professors who I really learned a lot from. Professor Linda Seward was tough, but she challenged us all the time to think outside the box, to embrace life off campus and pushed us out into the community in various ways. I use what I learned in Sister Mary Ann Flannery’s speech class to this day, because I spend a lot of time public speaking. I also became a much stronger writer at John Carroll, and that was something that helped me as I came up through fundraising, communications, volunteer services and media relations. So, it wasn’t one lesson or learning, but a variety of experiences and skills I developed in and out of the classroom that prepared me to serve our community.
Q: How are you making a human impact in your career?
A: In addition to providing food to about 350,000 people a year, we’re advocates for the poor and struggling, whose voices aren't always heard. We work on changing public policy for the better for those who need support, and we’re connecting clients to other nonprofit partners to address root causes of hunger and help families become more food secure.
Traditionally food banks across the country, ours included, have focused on distributing food through partners. With the COVID crisis and the unemployment that followed, the need skyrocketed at the same time many of our distribution partners had to close and volunteers became much harder to find. More than 200 of our agencies have been forced to close at some point because they were located within senior centers, schools or libraries—many of which have not yet reopened.
We started doing things we never imagined ourselves doing before COVID. We secured 72 National Guards to help support our work, and we developed new, safer “no-touch” distribution methods to protect our clients and our staff while getting food out to the community. The most visible is our drive-through distribution on Thursday afternoons at the Muni lot, which serves 1,700 families every week. We have a responsibility to step in and to make sure clients have the food they need. It’s a responsibility I learned at John Carroll.