Local agencies collaborate to bring new food-service program to Mahoning County
By Jordyn Grzelewski
Numerous local agencies are coming together for an initiative that would provide fresh, nutritious food to people in the community who need it and create employment opportunities for adults with special needs.
The Mahoning County commissioners heard at their meeting Thursday from Alta Care Group CEO Joe Shorokey about plans to start a food-service program at the former Youngstown Developmental Center. The 10-building, 35-acre campus on State Line Road in Austintown closed last year, and the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board plans to buy it from the state for $1.
Local agencies are collaborating on plans to turn the campus into a facility that will serve the community, such as by offering space and activities that will allow caregivers some respite and providing opportunities for individuals with special needs.
The plans for a food-service program came about after Alta acquired the Head Start preschool program and found many children were lacking food, particularly healthy food, Shorokey said.
“That resonated with me. That resonated with a number of our staff. We began thinking about doing something different,” he said.
With support from the William Swanston Charitable Fund, Alta began providing students with fruits and vegetables they otherwise might not get to eat. Now, Alta wants to expand that initiative.
When discussions regarding the YDC building came up last year, Shorokey expressed interest in using the site’s kitchen for a food-service program. The program would contract with local social-service agencies to deliver locally sourced, nutritious meals.
With funding from the Swanston fund and the Raymond John Wean Foundation, Alta hired a business consultant to conduct a market analysis, which recently was completed. The next step will be to write a business plan.
Shorokey said research has indicated the operation could initially serve about 300,000 meals per year, with the goal of eventually increasing that to 500,000.
The operation also would provide opportunities for adults with special needs.
“This campus could produce and deliver the food, in many cases employing special-needs adults in gainful employment and at the same time providing for low-income families and children,” said Sarah Lown, public finance manager for the Western Reserve Port Authority, which is involved in the effort.
Shorokey said he is confident there is a market for the service, saying many local social-service agencies rely mostly on out-of-town providers and have expressed dissatisfaction with the delivery services and food quality they currently receive.
“We see a lot of value here for the community,” he said.
The next step, he said, will be to look at the financial viability of the program.
“I know there is significant interest there,” he said. “It’s all going to come down to, can we do it at a competitive cost?”
The county prosecutor’s office is working on the legal aspects of the plan.