Many children and elderly benefit from the campaign.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Second Harvest Food Bank kicked off its annual "Harvest for Hunger" campaign Friday with a goal to raise $50,000 and take in 40,000 pounds on nonperishable food in March.
Executive Director Mike Iberis said food bank-affiliated agencies in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties have reported that the number of people receiving food has grown 25 percent to 30 percent.
He said of 175,000 people who have used the services of the food bank, many are the working poor. Nearly one-fourth are children. The distribution of food is done primarily through food pantries that are associated with a church or faith-based organizations.
The elderly are also a large segment of the food bank clients.
"It is a staggering statistic that another fourth of those receiving food are senior citizens. They're living longer, and their resources are running out and they have to resort to food pantries," he said.
Iberis said because the need continues to escalate, Second Harvest has increased its goals from last year's campaign by $10,000 and 10,000 pounds of food.
Feeding the masses
Last year, the food bank, which distributed 4.3 million pounds of food to member agencies, provided 3.5 million meals to the hungry in the region.
In addition to contributions from individuals, corporations, special events and the United Way, the food bank also receives funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Iberis extended the food bank's gratitude to the many volunteers who worked 20,000 hours at the food bank and affiliated pantries.
"The people that run the pantries are the true heroes. I can't thank them enough for all that they do," he said.
For example, Ben Clayman, a 16-year-old student at Liberty High School, regularly talks about the problem of hunger in school assemblies and urges other young people to get involved.
A graduate of Youth Leadership Mahoning Valley, Clayman said sometimes teens are portrayed as not caring about others.
"If you give them an opportunity, they'll go for it. They'll help."
Businesses in the community also get involved in the "Harvest for Hunger" campaign, including Giant Eagle, Tops Stores and First Place Bank.
Karen Fox of Ohio Edison explained that the company plans a "Paddle Battle Against Hunger" table tennis tournament at 9 a.m. March 19 at the food bank to raise money for this year's campaign.
Media sponsors, including The Vindicator, WFMJ-TV and HOT 101 will be involved in promoting the "Harvest for Hunger" campaign and creating community awareness.
Second Harvest stressed that all monetary contributions and food collected in the Mahoning Valley will remain here to feed the hungry.