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Farmers donate meat to food bank

YOUNGSTOWN — Area families will be receiving protein as soon as next week when they pick up their food from Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley.

On Thursday morning, volunteers for the food bank and the Ohio National Guard unloaded 2,500 pounds of meat donated by the Mahoning County Farm Bureau.

Mike Iberis, executive director of Second Harvest, said the donation “shows how the people of this community come together when friends and neighbors are in need.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Iberis said the food bank saw a 35 to 40 percent increase of people needing food. Now, the food bank is observing a 25 to 30 percent increase.

“That was a temporary spike that will hopefully go back to a lower level” as people return to work and their pre-pandemic routines, Iberis said.

Iberis said Second Harvest has been preparing for months for another spike as COVID-19 cases soar across the state.

The meat donation came after the Mahoning County Farm Bureau heard about a meat shortage, and a greater need of families for meat, said Jenifer Pemberton, president of the bureau.

During the height of the pandemic, Pemberton said there wasn’t necessarily a shortage on meat, but rather the supply chain was out of commission temporarily.

For example, she said, some meat-packing plants had to shut down due to virus outbreaks at the facilities, and many stores putting limits on dairy and meat products.

“It wasn’t that the animals aren’t available,” she said.

Working with a donor who purchased meat, Pemberton said the next step was working with a local processor.

“Our key was, we really wanted to make sure we paid the farmers” and the processors, she said. “We felt like everyone was in need.”

That’s when the bureau linked with Horst Packing, Inc. of Columbiana, Pemberton said.

Chad Bailey, treasurer and public policy chair of the Mahoning County Farm Bureau, also works at Horst Packing part time.

The bureau worked with local farms that lost contracts due to the pandemic, he said.

While many jobs have been lost or furloughed over the last several months, that isn’t the case with the meat processing industry.

In fact, the company is booked into early next year, currently processing 20 cows and about 20 hogs weekly.

Bailey said there is “no let up in sight” as employees are working extended hours to prepare meat.

Nearly 21,000 meals will be provided because of the donation, Iberis said, and will be distributed through the food bank’s 160 agencies in Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties.

Assisting volunteers at the food bank were 25 National Guard members who have been assisting daily during the pandemic, Iberis said.

The soldiers help with distribution, sanitation “and any other duty that the food bank” finds necessary, Iberis said.

“Without the National Guard in the last few months, we just couldn’t do it.”

afox@tribtoday.com

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