- Michael Cooper Staff Writer
More than $10.4 million would be needed to fully meet the need for food in Clark County, according to a recent report from a national non-profit that battles hunger in the United States.
The food insecurity rate in Clark County was about 16.3 percent in 2014, according to the Map the Meal Gap project completed annually by Feeding America — meaning more than 22,000 people here don’t get the food they need.
Food insecurity is a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Without access to healthy foods, residents will often turn to pre-packaged, processed foods high in sodium that are more affordable, said Sarah Dahlinghaus, a public health educator with the Clark County Combined Health District. That can lead to health issues like obesity and diabetes.
Last year, two-thirds of Clark County residents surveyed by the health district reported themselves as overweight or obese.
The health district is working to improve accessibility and availability to food, Dahlinghaus said.
As part of the Clark County Combined Health District’s Creating Healthy Communities grant, the New Carlisle Farmer’s Market began accepting federal Women, Infants and Children food aid to allow low-income individuals access to fresh fruit and vegetables. More than $650 was spent at the market, Dahlinghaus said.
“We’re hitting accessibility and affordability at the same time,” Dahlinghaus said. “They’re able to use their benefits and it’s right there in their city.”
Several Speedway gas stations have also begun offering produce in their locations, she said, such as apples and bananas.
“Instead of buying a candy bar or a bag of chips, at least you have the option to buy a banana,” Dahlinghaus said. “We have the option, which is a big step forward.”
While the food insecurity rate remained steady at about 16 percent over the past few years, more people than ever are coming to the food pantry for the Second Harvest Food Bank of Clark, Champaign and Logan Counties, Executive Director Tyra Jackson said.
Second Harvest’s food pantries served more than 90,000 families in Clark, Champaign and Logan counties in the past fiscal year. That included nearly 88,000 children and nearly 39,000 seniors.
About 1,500 people per month receive food at the pantry at 701 E. Columbia St., which recently extended hours to serve more people. Many of their clients have one or two jobs, Jackson said, but typically make minimum wage.
“They just cannot make it on that,” Jackson said.
A recent food bank survey showed 53 percent of clients had to choose between food and utilities, while others had to choose between food and medical care (36 percent) or transportation (31 percent).
“While they can use their money for those types of things, we want to be able to provide the food because we work so closely with our community partners,” Jackson said.
In Ohio, more than 1.9 million people face food insecurity, which would cost an additional $911 million to meet the need, the report said.
Second Harvest has also worked to reach more people through different programs, such as backpack programs that send food home with students for the weekend. The program is in schools at Springfield City School District and Catholic Central.
The food bank partners with pantries, non-profits, soup kitchens and shelters to directly serve the community, Jackson said. That allows them to reach more people with fresh fruit and vegetables.
The food pantry typically provides healthier options than would be available at food fast restaurants, she said.
They’re also working to make the Mobile Food Pantry available at health fairs where more people can receive education on healthy living. The mobile pantry has recently expanded its menu to include healthier options, as well as offering patrons healthy recipes for the included ingredients.
“If you’ve given someone something they don’t know how to prepare, you really haven’t given them anything,” said Laura Haverkos, who works in food procurement at the food bank.
The food bank has worked hard over the past year to let people know there is no stigma in asking for assistance, Jackson said.
“We’ll find some way to assist them and not make them feel as though it’s negative that they’re coming,” she said.
More than 61 percent of people in Clark County are eligible for full government assistance, according to the report. However people sometimes won’t accept government benefits because of the stigma attached, Dahlinghaus said.
“If we’re going to solve issues like food insecurity and food deserts than that stigma has to disappear,” she said.