Columbiana County distributes more than $10 million in food stamps each year.
By D.A. WILKINSON
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
LISBON -- Food pantries throughout Columbiana County say requests for help are growing.
Michael Iberis, executive director of the Second Harvest Food Bank in Youngstown, on Wednesday told the county commissioners, "Columbiana County is no different than any other county. The need is increasing."
The group of about 20 pantries represent all corners of the county and are members of Second Harvest. Most of the groups are tied to churches.
The groups gave away 423,550 pounds of food from the food bank in 2004 and have distributed 204,546 pounds of food so far this year. Iberis said those figures do not include any food the groups may have collected or bought from other sources.
Figures from the food bank indicate the groups are on track to distribute about the same amount this year.
Many people trapped
Iberis said the problem stemmed from the working poor, who can't make ends meet. Several pantry workers blamed the rising demand on the economy and high gasoline prices that use money from the family food budget. Other pantry workers said they are seeing people who are working at low-paying jobs and aren't eligible for government help but can't make ends meet.
Requests for help often strain the food pantry's budget, according to some pantry workers.
Eileen Dray-Bardon, director of the county's Job and Family Services Department, said it distributes more than $10 million a year in food stamps.
"The amount of need, it's really overwhelming," she said.
Department workers take up a collection on payday to help those who do not qualify for assistance, Dray-Bardon said.
Patricia Mosley helps run a pantry sponsored by the First United Methodist and First Presbyterian churches in Salem.
She said she is seeing more families moving in together to share housing or medical costs.
The problem, Mosley said, is that "I think people like to eat."
Pantries, she said, want to help them.
Iberis said he wanted the commissioners to be aware of the problem and to open communication with the board.
The group did not make any specific request for help.
Commissioner Jim Hoppel said the board now has a better understanding of the need in the county.
Mosley had asked about obtaining part of the $71,000 in special federal aid funds, but the county's share has been allocated this year. The funds go to some of the groups as well as Dray-Bardon's agency for food programs or to help the needy with housing and utility bills.
Virginia Maria Grilli, chairwoman of the committee that distributes the funds, said the groups can apply in January for next year's funds.
The problem, said Grilli, is that there is not enough money to meet all the needs and there never will be.