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$50K to help food bank meet soaring demand

Springfield Port Authority donation will go toward more cold storage space.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Clark, Champaign and Logan Counties might know within three weeks whether it has all of the $94,000 it needs to expand its refrigerated space and meet soaring demand.

The food bank last week learned it will receive $50,000 from the Springfield Port Authority and Cargill might provide the remaining $44,000. The Port Authority donation money likely will be viewed as a local matching donation, boosting the prospects that Cargill will donate to the effort to add more cold storage at the food bank’s distribution center, 701 E. Columbia St.

“Hopefully, between the Port Authority and Cargill, we’ll get that cooler built,” said Keith Williams, regional director of Second Harvest.

The demand for the additional cooling and freezing space is part of a shift in food bank logistics nationwide being driven by persistent and increasing demand for food.

Local Second Harvest statistics show it likely will provide more than 3 million meals again in 2013, approaching the number provided in 2009, the year the national financial crisis sent shudders through the economy.

Demand for meals dropped off by about 800,000 in 2010 but has climbed steadily since then and is expected to continue. Second Harvest national leadership has told its member food banks to be ready to give away an additional 4.5 percent of food during each of the next five years.

Jeff Miller, the food bank’s director of operations, said that kind of response less than a month after first public notice of its need to expand cooling space “was certainly more than we ever imagined.”

Catholic Charities of Southwest Ohio, which operates the food bank, is also conducting a feasibility study in anticipation of a campaign to raise $56,000 to convert the currently divided freezer/cooler at the food bank into permanent freezing space.

Jim Foreman, chairman of the port authority, said the port authority’s involvement began when he read an article in the April 9 edition of the Springfield News-Sun documenting the dramatic increase in the number of people who are getting their food from Second Harvest.

The port authority board members last week voted to approve the grant.

“I just thought (that) with all the good they do for the unfortunate in Springfield, (helping them) would be a nice thing to do,” he said.

The increased demand at food banks has led to a shift in the logistics of feeding the number of people now considered to be food insecure.

Food banks traditionally have relied on canned goods and other shelf-stable food to feed the hungry. Non-perishables not only are popular but easier and cheaper to handle.

Donations of those items have leveled off, however. And at the same time, demand has increased and grocery chains and growers have stepped forward to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to fill the gap.

Here and elsewhere, the changing landscape has overrun food banks’ cooling and freezing space. Second Harvest now stores some of its items in Dayton.

The Springfield Port Authority was founded during the administration of former Gov. Ted Strickland as a tool of economic development. Originally funded with $1.5 million from the state of Ohio, another $1.5 million allocation had been expected.

When the additional money didn’t materialize, Foreman said the port authority was advised that it wouldn’t have sufficient money to float bonds or do other financing for major development projects. When that became apparent, he said, the committee concluded: “We’ve got that money sitting there, let’s put it to good use.”

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