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Prison Fresh: Inmates Volunteer To Assemble Meals For Ohio's Homeless

Adora Namigadde
Inmates at Pickaway Correctional Institute pack pasta as part of the "Meals For Oho" pilot program.

Inside Pickaway Correctional Institution, around 70 inmates are packing up pasta. The sauce, too - tomato basil.


Rick McNary, of the Iowa-based nonprofit Outreach Program, says it makes for a pretty nutritious meal.

“It's microwave-able, it's easy to cook," says Rick McNary. "People often throw extra stuff in it like meat or vegetables. It has 21 nutrients and vitamins in it. It has soy, which provides the protein."

The packaged meals, developed by Iowa State University's food science department, are being assembled for homeless people in Central Ohio, as part of a pilot program called Meals For Ohio.

And the inmates themselves say they're happy to do it.

"We've got a bunch of volunteers here that want to give back to the community,” says inmate Christopher Salcedo.

The Outreach Program, which organizes similar volunteer events around the country, provided the food and the system for volunteers to assemble meal packages. 

“We want to roll up our sleeves, put a hair net on, put gloves on and do something practical,” McNary says.

So on Wednesday morning, the inmates gathered at 8:30 sharp to form assembly lines in groups of 10. Some scooped up ingredients, others sealed bags, and others packed the bags into boxes.

“There are 36 bags to a box, six meals to a bag, so 216 meals in a box,” McNary said.


Credit Adora Namigadde
Inmates volunteered to put together the pasta meals. Many say they were inspired to give back to the community.

That makes 50,000 meals total. Warden Charles Bradley says when the Governor's Office reached out to Pickaway Correctional Institution to tackle the program, it was a no-brainer.

“Our creed is to give our offenders the opportunity to give back to some of the communities they took from,” Bradley says.

That includes offenders like Bernard Jones, who's spent more than two decades in prison.

“I've been incarcerated for 22 years. I'm right around the corner on my way out," Jones says. "And this for me is a way to just continue doing what I wanna do."


Credit Adora Namigadde
An Iowa-based nonprofit, The Outreach Program, provides the food and the assembly system to volunteers around the country.

Jones faces a parole board this August, but will max out his sentence in February 2020. Either way, he's out soon. He says he's determined to be helpful to his local community when he leaves prison - and Meals For Ohio is a step in that direction.

“I'm incarcerated for manslaughter. I killed a friend," Jones says. "It's hard to say, 'How could you take the life of a friend?' But it happened and I can't change it. I can only better myself."

Once the meals are packed up, Central Ohio social service nonprofits like Gladden Community Center and Moms2B will distribute them to low-income clients.

“They already have the infrastructure and the ability to determine who should receive the food,” McNary says.


Credit Adora Namigadde
Developed by food scientists at Iowa State University, the prepackaged pasta and tomato basil sauce is designed to be nutritious and easy to cook.

The Outreach Program wants to expand the program throughout Ohio. Already, it's inspired some of the inmates who participated.

Salcedo, who's been in prison for two years and will be there for two more, says Meals For Ohio helped him develop a plan for when he leaves.

“I've already talked to the guy, Rick, who's in charge of the outreach program,” Salcedo says. “He told me to get a hold of him when I get out so I can also do this on the street.”