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Amid gloomy economic data, hunger tightens grip on area


Published: Wed, September 20, 2017 @ 12:00 a.m.

Tuesday’s disheartening report from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services showing already high unemployment rates in Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley climbing even higher reinforce many other signs our region continues to lag in the economic recovery elsewhere in the state and nation.

Just take a passing glance at the Valley’s 6.5 percent jobless rate last month (up from 6.1 percent in August 2016) or Youngstown’s 8.6 percent rate (up from 7.9 percent a year earlier), and one can readily see that we’re moving in the wrong direction from state and national unemployment levels of 5.4 percent and 4.4 percent respectively.

A wide strata of other data also underscore the Valley’s portrait of above-average hardship. A comprehensive study on poverty in the Buckeye State, released earlier this year by the Ohio Development Services Agency, gave Youngstown the ignominious distinction of a 38.3 percent poverty rate, the highest among the top 10 most populous urban centers in the state.

Collectively, these and other findings are troubling. But even more troubling are the hurting human faces behind those stark and impersonal numbers. For many of them, high rates of joblessness and poverty translate into growing pangs of hunger.

In the tri-county area, more than 87,000 people struggle with hunger and food insecurity and many may not know where they will find their next meal, according to the Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley. That number includes 1 in 4 children.

Second Harvest and its 153 member agencies in the Valley remain stuck in overdrive to adequately respond to the needs. Throughout September, the food bank is focusing on restocking supplies, refilling its shelves and replenishing its treasury in a nationwide campaign known as Hunger Action Month.

We join Second Harvest in urging residents throughout the Valley to actively support Hunger Action Month. We can visibly show our support by wearing orange, the color of the campaign that also connotes a stimulant to hunger.

We can, as Second Harvest urges all of us to do during this year’s observance, share ideas of what we couldn’t do without adequate nutrition by writing on an empty plate, “On an empty stomach I can’t ______.” Then you simply fill in the blank with something we couldn’t achieve without the nutrition we need to thrive. Because of the inextricable link between hunger and a vital, viable, healthy life, that list of blank-fillers could be endless.

Then post photos of yourself in orange attire with your Hunger Action Day plate to social media with #HungerActionMonth, @SHFBMV and @FeedingAmerica to join the conversation.

HUNGER, HEALTH LINK

This year’s plate campaign demonstrates clearly the strong link between hunger and health. An empty stomach, after all, can put a healthy life and a promising future in severe jeopardy.

“In addition to shelf stable food, we’ve increased our distribution of fresh fruits and vegetables to provide more access to healthier food options to help children in the Valley to grow, learn and thrive, and provide seniors with much needed nutrient rich food that is often cost prohibitive.” said Michal Iberis, executive director of the food bank.

More importantly, all of us can recommit ourselves to making a concrete impact toward easing the scope of hunger in our neighborhoods.

There are many ways to do so. Caring residents can organize a food drive, make a monetary donation to the SHFB or volunteer their time and effort at the organization’s sprawling warehouse and distribution site on Salt Springs Road on Youngstown’s West Side.

Many will recall that a few years back, the Mahoning Valley came out No. 1 in the nation in an online drive that netted $1 million for hunger relief. Time and again, the Valley has galvanized its can-do spirit to help the needy all around us.

This year’s call to action will require more than an online clicking frenzy, but we’re confident that given the compelling and growing need for hunger assistance, our Valley once again will display its benevolent and humanitarian character and answer the call to action.

The life-changing good works of Second Harvest throughout all 12 months of the year make it a social-service savior for which all should seriously consider opening their cupboards, wallets and hearts to help.


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