By William K. Alcorn
A Boardman single mother going through a divorce was among the 800 people who received 25 pounds of food and 10 pounds of personal-care items through the Feed The Children program at the Salvation Army on Glenwood Avenue.
“I’m trying to provide for my kids [4 and 6] until I get back on my feet,” said the 39-year-old, who recently moved back here from out of state.
“Anything they can spare is more than welcome,” said Betzaida Laguer of Youngstown, who has two sons, 10 and 5. She works as a cook but does not earn enough to meet all her obligations.
“The rent and other bills — it’s so hard,” said Laguer, who took the opportunity to “pay back” by passing out pastillos, a Spanish dish of ground beef and potatoes fried in dough, to the great delight of volunteers and Salvation Army employees loading the food and essentials into vehicles of the recipients.
The 25 pounds of nonperishable food items, such as pasta, potatoes, cereal, spaghetti sauce, peanut butter, and canned fruits and vegetables, and the 10 pounds of personal-care items are designed to help a family of four for up to a week, according to Feed The Children, which delivered two semi-tractor-trailers full of food and essentials to its partner agency, The Youngstown Salvation Army, at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
The Salvation Army pre-identified the families receiving the boxes.
The Boardman mother, who did not want to be identified, and Laguer are the new faces of poverty, said Tiffany Colvin of Youngstown, a social- services case manager at the Salvation Army.
Colvin said the demographics have changed from when she came to the SA seven years ago.
Then, clients primarily were unemployed people. Today, clients mainly are the working poor, she said.
“We get a tremendous response because there is great need,” said the Rev. Maj. Elijah Kahn, who, with his wife, Maj. Valerie Kahn, are coordinators for Mahoning County-area services.
The economy is bad, and people who never came to the Salvation Army for help are coming now, he said.
“Hunger hurts physically and emotionally. Some people may have to choose between putting food on the table and paying the rent,” Rev. Maj. Kahn said.
Though the Feed The Children is a welcome once-a-year event, the Salvation Army at 1501 Glenwood Ave. serves 200 to 250 people a day to sit-down meals from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The agency also serves sit-down meals from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday and operates an emergency food pantry, he added.
More than half of the children living in Youngstown, 54.7 percent, are considered impoverished, and the number of children living in poverty in Ohio, 623,852, could fill Stambaugh Stadium more than 30 times, according to Feed The Children.
“Many of the families on the Americans Feeding Americans Caravan considered themselves middle class just a few short years ago. Now they are making hard choices between paying bills and feeding their families,” said Tony Sellars, spokesman for Feed The Children, which is an international charity based on private, nongovernment support.
Rev. Maj. Kahn said the Salvation Army has programs to meet people’s spiritual as well as physical needs.
He said it offers church services and Sunday school in English and Spanish and youth programs through the week such as it after-school program, choir, drama, character building and brass band, in which students from Dana School of Music teach children how to play through Youngstown State University’s SMARTS (Students Motivated by the Arts), an arts-education partnership at Youngstown State University.
He invited individuals and families, churches, businesses and service organizations to volunteer to tutor children in the after-school program and to help with other activities at the Salvation Army. People interested can call 330-270-5999.
“It is a chance to give back and for children to learn about good citizenship. We are all connected. When one person succeeds, the community succeeds,” he said.