Sara Continenza is the Founder and Executive Director of Food Strong. She graduated from OSU in 2005, having earned 2 Bachelor's degrees, and then joined the Peace Corps. She served as a female empowerment volunteer in Burkina Faso, West Africa from 2005-'10. After working as a Kindergarten Assistant at Citizen's Academy charter school for a year, Sara joined the JET Programme and moved to Japan to teach English from 2008-'10.
Upon her return to the United States, Sara became dedicated to helping her own beloved City of Cleveland, Ohio. She served as the Stay Well Project Manager at the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland for 4 years, empowering people at food pantries and hot meal programs to take charge of their health and to treat food as medicine before starting her own consulting company, Whole Vision LLC. She recently started Food Strong in order to develop her fresh food-oriented community programs.
Food Strong relies on a team of dedicated volunteers and interns who help bring its programs to life. If you are interested in being involved, call or email today!
Food Strong became a nonprofit 501c3 organization in July, 2018. Food Strong's parent, Whole Vision LLC, was founded by Food Strong's Executive Director, Sara Continenza, as a consulting company dedicated to enhancing community health through urban gardens, active living and the arts.
Under Whole Vision LLC, Sara initiated the School Garden Program in partnership with Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) and a dedicated committee of passionate stakeholders who helped to develop a school garden toolkit and curriculum based on Ohio's unique learning standards. In 2017, the first school garden was launched at CMSD's Iowa Maple Elementary School, and shortly following, at CMSD's Artemus Ward Elementary School. Both schools are still active participants in this initiative.
In 2016, Care-A-Van was formed in partnership with its co-founder Amy Budish. The goal has always been to foster access to fresh foods in under-resourced communities. Since its founding, this program's planning committee has met consistently, every month, to steer this program. In 2017, 4 events were held, and in 2018, 18 Care-A-Van events, 1 focus group, 1 community engagement event and 1 fundraiser were held.
We have built and nurtured meaningful relationships with our stakeholders, partners and program participants. Now that our nonprofit organization Food Strong has been formed, we will take what we have learned to date to scale and replicate our fresh food programming in 2019 and beyond. We will continue to emphasize collaboration and community engagement in our work in order to maximize our reach with limited resources expended.
Our mission is to empower and strengthen communities around food. We promote the cultivation, purchase and consumption of fresh, local foods while simultaneously providing linkage to the other vital services and resources. Food is the tool we use to convene community members, bring in vital resources and foster overall community wellness.
In all of our work, we make sure to engage the community. We work with, not for, communities, with the mindset that sustainability is ensured when the community has a sense of ownership over our work. We also form strategic partnerships with groups and individuals from the public, business and nonprofit sectors. It takes a village, and by working together, we are able to conserve resources while bringing in the services and expertise of a variety of like-minded stakeholders.
Every child should know how to garden and prepare fresh, healthy meals. Our school garden program is driven by students and supported by teachers, parents and community partners. We have built successful gardens at Artemus Ward Elementary and Iowa Maple Elementary, both in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.
Many communities throughout Northeast Ohio lack access to/appreciation for fresh foods. Care-A-Van makes wellness fun by working with farmers markets, community potlucks and other food-oriented events to bring valuable resources, nutrition education, arts and crafts, book giveaways, music and more.