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Food relief campaign begins today

The Springfield News-Sun in collaboration with Second Harvest and Catholic Charities kicks its annual food relief campaign today.

A cut to food stamp benefits that went into effect this month has the Second Harvest Food Bank steeling itself for a surge in demand.

“This winter is going to be very challenging,” said Keith Williamson, executive director of the local food bank serving Clark, Champaign and Logan counties.

Today, the Springfield News-Sun kicks off its annual food relief campaign in collaboration with Second Harvest and Catholic Charities at a time when 1 in 7 Americans already receives food stamps.

Through Jan. 1, Williamson would like to raise between $30,000 and $35,000 to feed local residents in need.

In what can only be described as a sign of the times, 75 percent of those families in need have jobs.

“They’re working,” Williamson said, “they just can’t get by.”

An envelope is included in your paper today to make it easier to donate.

“Through our stories, we know that hunger is a real problem in Springfield and throughout the area,” said Ben McLaughlin, editor of the Springfield News-Sun. “This effort is a great way to stretch your donation and feed the most local people possible.”

With the food bank’s buying power, every $1 donated can purchase four complete meals, Williamson said.

“Monetary donations go much farther than a product donation,” he said.

With “food insecurity,” or a person’s inability to find enough food, stuck at 2008 levels — the highest-recorded level since national monitoring began in 1995 — there’s never a wrong time to help the food bank help others.

But, this year’s campaign comes at a time when more than 47 million Americans are seeing their food stamp benefits reduced, and with Congress eyeing additional cuts to the nearly $80 billion annual program.

Recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, had benefited from a temporary boost in benefits after the 2009 passage of the stimulus bill, which increased the maximum SNAP benefit by 13.6 percent. That boost expired on Nov. 1, reverting food stamp benefits back to pre-stimulus amounts.

A family of four will now receive $36 less each month.

According to the New York Times, the reduced funding represents the largest wholesale cut to the program since the passage of the Food Stamps Act in 1964.

Williamson said that people on food stamps will likely be able to get by the rest of November.

But, come December and January, “We expect it to start snowballing,” he said.

Second Harvest already is accommodating more people than it ever thought possible.

“It’s been overwhelming for a couple of years,” Williamson said. “I’m not seeing where the end is going to be.”

In 2012, the local food bank distributed more than 4.1 million pounds of food to the pantries it serves. This year, however, they’ll surpass 5 million pounds, Williamson said.

By Nov. 1, Second Harvest already had distributed more than 4.6 million pounds of food this year, he said.

Part of it is need, he said, and part of it is because Second Harvest had more food than usual to give out this past summer after Gov. John Kasich in May signed an executive order providing $1 million to the state’s 12 food banks. Second Harvest received $76,000, Williamson said.

The local food bank also is about to open a new, $156,000 cooler that will be able to hold 84 pallets of food compared to the old cooler’s capacity of 16 pallets.

The cooler is needed, Williamson said, because the food bank’s product offerings have shifted from shelf-stable items to more fresh produce and meats.

The giant new cooler no doubt will soon be put to the test.

Each day, 15 to 20 families have to be turned away at Second Harvest’s own pantry alone on East Columbia Street, Williamson said.

“It’s becoming the new reality,” he said.

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