By Grace Wyler
As unemployment continues to hover just under 11 percent, local charities are stretching resources to meet the needs of a growing number of people asking for help this holiday season.
The combined jobless rate for Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties remained flat at 10.8 percent last month. Mahoning Valley unemployment has been in the double-digits every month since January 2009.
Three years into the recession, relief organizations in the Valley are struggling with depleted resources and increased demand.
Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley served 12,000 people in 2009, up from 11,000 in 2008, said spokeswoman Becky Miller. She added that demand has continued to rise this year.
“A lot of the increase is due to unemployment,” Miller said. “There are a lot of people who have to use the pantry just to make ends meet.”
Overall, the food bank saw a 53 percent increase in people coming for food between 2006 and 2009, she said.
The Catholic Charities Regional Agency, limited by diminishing resources after months of high unemployment and economic hardship, has had to come up with new ways to extend its services, said executive director Nancy Boitus. The agency served more than 26,000 people last year.
“It has definitely strained our resources,” she said.
“We are trying to stretch what we have and work with other agencies to help people. We are also trying to do more budgeting with people to help them work with what they’ve got.”
Although the need for services has remained high over the past three years, demand tends to spike during the holidays, Boitus said.
“We get between 80 and 100 phone calls every day, especially from people who are looking for help with food around Christmas and Thanksgiving,” she said. “The pantries are really busy.”
People also are looking to government agencies for help finding work and making ends meet.
“We’ve seen increased business on both the workforce side and the human services side,” said Benjamin Turner, a work force administrator for Trumbull County’s Jobs and Families Services department. “People have been coming in for a lot of services like utility assistance, food assistance — its been tough out there for a number of months.”
Trumbull County’s unemployment rate held steady at 11 percent last month. It was 13.4 percent in November 2009.
Mahoning County’s rate last month fell to 10.4 percent from 10.7 percent in October. It was 13.4 percent in November 2009.
In Columbiana County, joblessness was at 11.2 percent in November, a slight decline from 11.3 in October. The unemployment rate was 13.2 percent in November 2009.
Youngstown’s unemployment rate was 12 percent in November, down from 12.2 percent the month before. The city’s joblessness was at 14.4 percent in November 2009.
Warren’s unemployment held steady at 11.5 percent, down from 14 percent in the same month last year.