MAHONING VALLEY Food bank mounts drive

In 2001, Second Harvest distributed 4.1 million pounds of food, 900,000 pounds more than in 2000.
YOUNGSTOWN -- The sagging economy, the effects of Sept. 11 on local giving, and the loss of jobs and welfare benefits have combined to put an unusual strain on area food banks.
Second Harvest Foodbank hopes its monthlong annual Harvest for Hunger Campaign in Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull Counties, which kicked off today, will make people aware of the problem and prompt them to become involved by donating food or initiating food drives at their places of business or work.
Statistics: Second Harvest statistics reveal that hunger is on the rise in the tri-county area.
For example, last year there was a 24 percent increase over 2000 in the number of people requesting emergency food. In 2001, Second Harvest distributed 4.1 million pounds of food to agencies in Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull Counties, more than 900,000 pounds more than the 2000 total, said Michael Iberis, executive director.
The purposes of the March campaign are to raise public awareness of the hunger problem, raise money to operate the food bank and collect food for distribution, said Rebecca Martinez, director of development.
Local support for Harvest for Hunger is crucial this year as the area faces more job layoffs and business closings that will adversely affect working families, especially those with children, Iberis said.
Today's local press conference to kick off the 2002 Harvest for Hunger campaign coincided with a national "Call to Action" in Washington, D.C., and throughout the nation to boost awareness of hunger and to generate new resources for food, funds and volunteers.
Second Harvest Foodbank is a nonprofit organization providing food to 200 member agencies that serve hungry people in the tri-county area. It is one of 200 Second Harvest food banks in the nation.
The member agencies, which include church pantries, shelters for battered women, homeless shelters, and child and adult day care centers, have refrigerators and freezers in which to store food, Martinez said.
Assistance: Second Harvest has national and local corporate sponsors, such as Giant Eagle, Tops and Sparkle Markets. Media sponsors include The Vindicator and WFMJ-TV 21.
Individuals can also help, Martinez said. Some people just buy an extra bag of groceries when they shop for themselves and drop it off at the warehouse at 1122 E. Midlothian Blvd. Others conduct food drives at their place of business, she said.
Also, Martinez said, the food bank always needs volunteers. She said 20,000 volunteers hours were logged in 2001. "We could not stay in business without them," she said.

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