Meeting Community Needs Through Operation Give Back

Over 20 years ago, the Langston family opened their home to children after school to provide tutoring. That program soon grew by the number of children and the needs of the kids who came to the Langston’s home. Today, Operation Give Back has its own building, a paid staff of four, over 80 volunteers and serves thousands of community members.

Throughout the years, Greater Cincinnati Foundation (GCF) in partnership with donors has provided support to Operation Give Back and thousands of other nonprofits to expand access to quality education for all children in our communities. In 2023 alone, GCF partnered with generous donors to grant over $24 million to education-based programs.

Every Tuesday – Thursday, program director Leanne Berke, executive director Sheila Lichtenberg, and a host of staff and volunteers help unload school busses full of children who they affectionally call “OGB Kids.” The 43 elementary-aged students settle into a cozy space, filled with bright colors, chairs, desks, and books, to eat a snack and begin working on homework. The students, grades 1-8, are paired with a dedicated volunteer tutor who doubles as a mentor, working with the same students each week.

Within the space is a fully functional pantry, offering free produce, meat, grains, shelf-stable foods and more. The pantry is a choice pantry, meaning that the families who access the pantry can choose which foods best suit their family’s needs. Miss Clare, a longtime volunteer with ‘the quickest, driest wit and such a warm heart’ knows all the shoppers by name.

When asked who Operation Give Back serves, Leanne shared, “So many of the families we serve are pretty good for the most part. It’s just tight. It’s trying to get backpacks, new Spring clothes, gifts for the holidays – that is tough. Or when your car goes down… it’s fine until something happens.”

With rising housing costs, inflation and lasting effects from COVID-19, Operation Give Back is seeing an increase in the number of people accessing services. In 2020 about 1,500 residents were served through the Community Food Pantry. In 2023, that number climbed to over 4,000.

Many families are operating on tight budgets and hectic schedules. “If we can help alleviate the pressure just a bit, take weekly groceries off your list, use that money for something else… that’s the role we play,” said Sheila.

Operation Give Back has been listening carefully to the needs of the students and families they serve and adding programs that address those needs such as a winter coat drive, a school supply giveaway, holiday store and more. They’ve explored different avenues for offering more experiences for kids – such as a trip to the University of Cincinnati Blue Ash to learn about career options. Providing new experiences and exposure to job opportunities, nature, art and more is important for children’s development. This need is especially felt in the summer when the students are no longer in school.

“When you go back to school you have something to talk about. We want to offer more camps with kids’ input,” said Leanne.

Discovering ways to build capacity and show up for students in the off season is difficult, but necessary.

“We’re finding ways to let the kids know that we’re thinking about them when they’re not here,” said Leanne. “We want to let them know that you can count on us. We’re going to show up.”

It’s clear that everyone involved in Operation Give Back is passionate about the community. At the end of our visit, Sheila noted, “We just try to make a little bit of a difference in their lives. It’s a special place. It’s good to be here.”

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