Despite success, Valley must stay vigilant to fight hunger
Again this year, Mahoning Valley residents reaped success in one of the region’s largest food and fundraising campaigns for the approximately 90,000 people among us who find themselves in or teetering on the brink of poverty.
This year’s Feed Our Valley campaign, spearheaded by our broadcast partner 21 WFMJ-TV, ranks as one of the most successful in its noble 11-year history, according to food bank officials.
The 2017 drive, which officially ended Friday, brought in more than 65,000 pounds of food and $73,869 in cash contributions, according to Michael Iberis, executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley, the beneficiary of the campaign.
Since its inception in 2007, Feed Our Valley has shown front and center the compassion and generosity of Valley residents by raising more than $745,000 and collecting 695,000 pounds of food.
We commend all who contributed in any way to this year’s success. According to Iberis, the Niles-based Cafaro Co., the shopping center development and management company, dropped off a $10,000 donation Friday to cap the campaign.
Sparkle Markets stand out as another formidable partner to Feed Our Valley. In addition to its own sizable donation to the drive, the chain of supermarkets in the Valley served as drop-off centers for donations over the past month.
Despite these successes, however, the campaign’s end in no way signals an end to the enduring need for hunger relief in our community. Poverty, food insecurity and hunger remain communitywide challenges that require attention, compassion and action 365 days a year.
One need only take a passing glance at 2017 poverty data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to realize that poverty has not weakened its grip on the Valley.
That data show a full 18 percent of the population in the 13th Congressional District live in poverty, one-third higher than the national rate. The poverty rate among blacks in the Valley stands at 36.5 percent, more than double the 14.2 percent rate for whites.
And even though Iberis said the numbers of people seeking food assistance has stabilized in 2017, that number remains about twice as high as a decade ago.
“It’s still far too high,” Iberis said.
CHILD HUNGER RISING
In addition, one of the more troubling trends Iberis has seen over the past year has been an increase in the number of children needing food assistance. The food bank director said throughout the Valley, more than 50 percent of all school-age children are now eligible for free and reduced price lunches.
Clearly, more work remains. Our community cannot rest on its laurels from the singular success of the 2017 Feed Our Valley campaign. The task of marshalling forces to combat hunger must continue unabated in the days, weeks and months ahead.
The winter months are critical for the food bank in amassing a stockpile of foodstuffs for its particularly heavy period of demand in late spring and summer.
As the new year approaches and Second Harvest’s need for community food assistance expands, resolve to lend a hand as one concrete means to fight hunger in our Valley in the short term and to reduce its scope in the long term.