If you were thinking THE effects of an improving national economy have trickled down to ease hardship and hunger among a significant slice of the Mahoning Valley populace, you had better think again.
The relentless pain of hunger shows no signs of loosening its tight grip on our state and region anytime soon.
Here’s concrete proof: The Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley last week announced it had distributed 10.6 million pounds of foodstuffs to its dozens of member pantries in the region in 2017. That total represents a 100,000-pound increase over 2016 levels.
That total weight is equivalent to standing 26 colossal 405,000-pound Statues of Liberty side by side.
Need more proof? Check out the data contained in the 2017 Map the Meal Gap study by Feeding America, the national network of food banks. It offers an insightful yet disturbing glance at the scope of hunger and food insecurity all around us. Among its findings:
Ohio ranks among the states with the greatest prevalence of food insecurity.
In the 13th Congressional District of Ohio, which comprises much of the Mahoning Valley, an estimated 124,320 people suffered food insecurity last year.
Seventy five percent of children in the 13th Congressional District meet eligibility guidelines for free and reduced price lunches and other federal nutrition assistance. That’s among the hghest rates for all of the Buckeye State.
Michael Iberis, executive director of SHFBMV, however, needs no empirical data or scientific studies. He sees proof of the Valley’s dire need for food support on the faces of the tens of thousands of patrons to the food bank’s growing network of pantries.
Unlike other parts of the nation where hunger and food insecurity have lessened over the past year, patronage at the Valley’s food-distribution centers continues to spike, albeit with a few new and alarming dimensions.
“There’s been a tremendous increase” in assistance sought by local senior citizens over the past year, according to Iberis. That makes sense, considering many people are living longer lives but with fewer resources from pensions, Social Security or public assistance.
On the other end of the age spectrum, the Youngstown-based food bank has witnessed assistance to children greatly swell as well.
Second Harvest opened its first food pantry in a public school last year in Boardman. Now there are 10 such school pantries with as many as 20 planned by the end of this year.
Food insecurity also has become more prevalent in suburban and rural communities throughout Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties. Sharp increases in clientele in Boardman, Howland and other more prosperous communities have been increasingly visible.
TAKE PART IN HARVEST FOR HUNGER
In the face of such widespread need, it is fortunate to have the Second Harvest Food Bank and its compassionate network of partners and donors available as a critical safety net.
For our part, The Vindicator and our broadcast partner 21 WFMJ-TV are proud to be counted among the sponsors and supporters of the 27th annual Harvest for Hunger campaign, an intensive six-weeklong food drive that kicks off 10:30 a.m. Thursday at Second Harvest’s Salt Springs Road headquarters in Youngstown and runs through March 31.
Harvest for Hunger, the agency’s late winter-early spring campaign, is designed to raise funds and collect nonperishable food to stock shelves and feed hungry mouths when demand peaks in late spring and early summer.
The food bank and its dozens of member agencies and pantries deliver about 40,000 pounds of food assistance each day to assist those in need, including many of the more than 30,000 children in the Valley who live in poverty.
That’s why Second Harvest merits a record-setting bounty in this year’s campaign. One convenient and easy way to do so is to contribute at the checkout of Giant Eagle and participating Sparkle markets.
Each $1 donated translates into $15 worth of food that the agency can distribute to needy families and individuals. All food donations stay to help residents of the Mahoning Valley.
To reap maximum yields this year, we urge schools, businesses, community groups and individuals to organize food and fund drives to benefit this worthwhile effort. Already, at least 150 groups have signed up.
Call or stop by the food bank or visit its website to discover the many ways you can lend a hand to cultivate success in this critically important community campaign.