Alum helps feed Cleveland neighbors

Christian Hanna

Wagner College business alumnus Christian Hanna ’13 has a track record of making himself useful wherever he goes.

After transferring to Wagner College in 2009 to play Division I football, he was sidelined by an injury — but that didn’t keep him from being a team player.

Christian became a student assistant to head basketball coach Dan Hurley during a particularly dynamic episode in Seahawk sports history.

Hurley, now the head coach at the University of Connecticut, said of Hanna, “That’s a special guy right there. I was lucky to have him help us rebuild the program at Wagner.”

Since graduating from Grymes Hill, he has earned an MBA from Manhattan College and pursued a successful career in risk management in Cleveland, Ohio.

Back in March, when the COVID-19 outbreak and stay-at-home orders started taking an economic and psychological toll on some of Christian’s neighbors, he started reaching out to his key contacts. After some brainstorming, they decided their mission would be to help those in the Northeast Ohio community who had been adversely effected by the coronavirus outbreak. Since we talked to Christian in late April, he has spearheaded an effort that has served meals to over 2,000 people.

Who exactly has been served?

  • Students reliant on school lunches
  • Homeless Shelter Patrons
  • Church Parishioners
  • Nursing Homes
  • Healthcare Workers
  • First Responders

But it all started small.

“At first, this was just me making bagged lunches and supporting local restaurants before going out into the city to distribute meals,” he said. “As I shared my journey, I received an overwhelming amount of inquiries from people wanted to lend a hand. Some donated funds, some helped make sandwiches, others donated food, some helped me scale up, and some helped put me in contact with various causes around Greater Cleveland.

“It’s been gratifying to watch a grassroots idea grow so rapidly and have such a beneficial impact on the community,” Christian said. “I’m just thankful I walk among such generous and giving people.”

How do a bunch of friends develop the capacity to prepare and distribute so many meals in such a short time to so many people?

“At first, I was doing this out of my kitchen,” he said. “A vast majority of my family are involved in the restaurant business, so I’ve always been well versed in food prep and kitchen safety.

“As this evolved, it became exhausting, waking up early or working late at night in the restaurants,” said Christian, who still maintains his job during business hours. “We started contacting local restaurants whose vision aligned with ours and it helped us run more efficiently.”

Christian said his favorite memory was teaming up with Ricky Smith, a friend who runs a non-profit called Random Acts of Kindness Everywhere.

“We were able to secure a food truck from Swenson’s Drive-In Restaurants that brought 125 meals to the West Side Catholic Center in Ohio City,” Hanna said.

“We were flattered when Christian reached out, but never did we think he would orchestrate such a fantastic meal for our resource center,” said John Litten, West Side Catholic Center executive director. “I can’t recall a time when we ever gave out burgers, fries and milkshakes!”

The entire project sounds extremely well-organized — leading us to ask, is this the beginning of a new non-profit organization serving the Cleveland area?

“I’d be lying if I said we haven’t kicked that can down the road,” Christian said, “but for now, we’re focused on lending a helping hand to people who need it the most, as well as those who are helping us flatten the curve.”

Christian Hanna (center, with sunglasses and facemask) and friends distribute some of the 220 pizzas ordered for distribution to healthcare workers and first responders in the Cleveland area.