Hunger rate in Valley soars

An estimated 9,800 people receive emergency food assistance each week.


YOUNGSTOWN — A new study reveals a 32 percent increase last year over 2006 in the number of Mahoning Valley residents seeking emergency food assistance through Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley.

A comprehensive report, conducted by Second Harvest and Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, shows that more than 58,600 people receive emergency food annually through Second Harvest, said Rebecca Martinez, director of resource development for the local food bank.

In Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties, the area served by Second Harvest, more than 70 percent of recipient households are experiencing hunger.

Among recipient households with children, 72 percent are hungry and 44 percent are uncertain as to where their next meal is coming from, Martinez said.

An estimated 9,800 people receive emergency food assistance each week from a food pantry, soup kitchen or other agency served by the food bank, an increase of 32 percent over the 2006 hunger study.

Many of the area’s hungry eat daily at St. Vincent De Paul Society’s kitchen at 208 W. Front St., Youngstown, not only for the hot meal but for the companionship.

“It’s like a family,” said Cheryl Kennedy, who comes to St. Vincent De Paul to eat. On Wednesday she gave out soft drinks and water to people going through the line.

“Skip [Ralph Barone, kitchen manager] is like a dad. The volunteers are great. They have a lot of love,” said Kennedy, 50, who lives on the city’s North Side.

“There are people who might go hungry without the kitchen. People would be lost,” she said.

“I’m glad the kitchen is here,” said Barbara Brooks, another regular who arrived a little after 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. She said she makes the meal do for breakfast and lunch.

“This place is extremely important to me,” said Arthur Walters, 51, who when asked where he lives, said he “makes do on a daily basis.”

“Skip is a wonderful man who makes sure everybody is taken care of. I look forward to being here,” Walters added.

Nationally, more than one in three recipient households are experiencing very low food security or hunger, a 54 percent increase in the number of households compared with four years ago, the study found.

An estimated 5.7 million people receive emergency food assistance each week from a food pantry, soup kitchen, or other agency served by one of Feeding America’s more than 200 food banks, including Second Harvest Food Bank.

This is a 27 percent increase over numbers reported in Hunger in America 2006, which reported that 4.5 million people were served each week, according to the study.

“The study shows 51 percent of the families served by Second Harvest having to choose between paying for food and paying for utilities or heating fuel, and 35 percent had to choose between paying for food and paying for medicine,” Martinez said.

“It is our mission and our responsibility to care for those that are hungry and in need. We have too many elderly having to choose between buying medicine or food and far too many children going to bed hungry,” she said.

“It is morally reprehensible that we live in the wealthiest nation in the world where one in six people are struggling to make choices between food and other basic necessities,” said Vicki Escarra, president and chief executive officer of Feeding America.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in November 2009 that an estimated 49 million people, including 17 million children, are at risk of hunger in the country, Martinez said.

Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley provides food to 153 hunger relief organizations in Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties. In 2009, the Food Bank distributed 7.4 million pounds of food in the tri-county area.

through member agencies including church pantries, homeless shelters and soup kitchens, shelters for battered women and after-school programs.


By the numbers

Emergency food distribution in Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties increased 32 percent between 2006 and 2009. Other findings in a new hunger survey by Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning and Feeding America include:

39 percent of the members of households served by the food bank are children under 18, an increase of 28 percent from 2006.

12 percent of those seeking emergency food assistance are the elderly, an increase of 5 percent since 2006.

59 percent of the recipients of food are non-Hispanic white, 36 percent are non-Hispanic black, and 5 percent are Hispanic or other nationalities.

35 percent of recipient households report at least one adult employed full time.

63 percent of recipients who need emergency food assistance report incomes below the federal poverty level.

Source: Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley, affiliated with Feeding America

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