As job losses still mount in Valley, so, too, does need for food bank’s safety net


The Mahoning Valley recently received a sobering reality check from number crunchers in Washington, D.C., on the scope of lingering economic malaise throughout our region.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics two weeks ago ranked the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman Metropolitan Area as No. 1 among 388 metro areas in the nation with the highest number of job losses incurred over the past year. It reported the Valley lost 2,500 jobs during that period. In second and third places were the Naples, Fla., and Corpus Christi, Texas, areas that lost 2,400 and 1,800 jobs respectively.

Of course, many of us did not need an official affirmation from the federal government to remind us that Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties have, in many respects, eluded the post-recession prosperity enjoyed by many other regions of our country.

Many here are painfully all too familiar with the loss last year of about 1,200 jobs at the General Motors Lordstown Assembly Complex, hundreds of other lost positions in GM supplier industries, the shuttering of several major retail giants and the relative lack of any sizeable new industrial or commercial enterprises to soften those blows.

What’s worse, things are not looking much brighter for the near future as a new round of 1,500 layoffs at GM Lordstown just took hold three weeks ago on top of hundreds of additional job losses caused by the closings or pending closings of such once-stalwart retailers in the Valley as Sears, Toys R Us, Babies R Us and others.

FOOD INSECURITY GROWS

As a result, some of the most visible by-products of growing unemployment and heightened poverty show no signs of loosening their tight grip on our region anytime soon. Prime among them are hunger and food insecurity.

Michael Iberis, executive director of the Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley, and his staff know all too well that reality and witness the toll hunger takes in our community on a daily basis.

It’s visible in the tens of thousands of patrons to the food bank’s growing network of pantries. And given the gloomy jobs numbers released by the BLS in late June, it’s hardly any wonder that the Youngstown-based food bank serving all three counties in the Valley recorded an all-time record high in its assistance in 2017.

It distributed 10.6 million pounds of foodstuffs to its dozens of member pantries in the region, a whopping 50-ton increase over 2016 levels.

The added strain on the food bank also translates into an increased demand for support to the agency.

We’re encouraged that several community-minded institutions and organizations have recognized the ongoing demand and have answered the food bank’s call.

Just last week, The Youngstown Foundation awarded the Second Harvest a generous $5,000 grant toward upgradng and installing cooling-unit equipment for millions of pounds of produce. That gift will greatly assist Second Harvest in providing fresh fruits and vegetables to its clients, many of whom live in food deserts far removed from access to those nutritious staples.

In June, the Morgan Stanley Foundation awarded the food bank a $25,000 grant. It, too, will be used to improve the food bank’s ability to access, transport and store fresh produce for its 15,000 food requests it fills in any given week.

The Youngstown and Morgan Stanley foundations are but two of the hundreds of faithful supporters and donors to the food bank’s critical mission. Others include the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, the region’s Minor League baseball team, that provides free admission to all Monday night games to those who bring and donate a bag of nonperishable food items. That promotion includes tonight’s game against the Hudson Valley Renegades at Eastwood Field in Niles.

Individuals interested in assisting Second Harvest are encouraged to make personal donations of food or funds. Groups, businesses and clubs can get involved by organizing food drives. Visit the food bank’s website at mahoningvalleysecondharvest.org for all of the details on how you can make a difference.

Clearly, given the relatively grim economic climate in the Valley that shows few signs of clearing up anytime soon, the sturdy safety net that is Second Harvest deserves our continued and generous support.

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