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Food relief drive comes up short

Springfield charity says need increased as cash donations decreased.

It is not a happy New Year for Keith Williamson, director of Second Harvest Food Bank and Regional Director for Catholic Charities of Southwest Ohio.

Second Harvest’s year-end holiday food drive, co-sponsored by the Springfield News-Sun, rendered only about half of what the goal for the program was. As of late last week, the food bank had received $16,267.40 from 319 donors.

“We got another $1,400 from people dropped off directly last week, but we’re still shy about $18,000 at this point,” said Williamson. “As we get deeper into the winter, some agencies like us are just going to have to tighten things up. We have no other choice. We can only work with what we have.”

While funds decrease in challenging economic times, the need grows. For example, when a cold snap hits like what has been experienced that last couple of days, emergency shelters open. One is currently operating at the Salvation Army headquarters on Plum Street. And Williamson gets calls for help from them.

“I have already offered them sandwiches and stuff, so that is beyond what our normal needs are,” he said.

In times of shortfalls, only so much can be done before the lack of food reaches those who need it.

“It ebbs and flows,” said Williamson. “Last summer, we had a high because of the governor’s executive order, giving $1 million to food banks across the state of Ohio. It was evenly distributed, so we got $76,000 to buy food. It was the first summer since I’ve been here where we didn’t face a shortage of food, and it helped us going into the fall.

“Now we are facing the opposite trend heading into the winter.”

Local companies are a big help, but Williamson said, “That is hit and miss as well. It has to do with their bottom lines, like everyone else.”

Kroger, for example, has a first-year program where its customers can donate to the food bank at its cash registers, although Williamson won’t know how that went for another few days.

He’s also looking for new ways to raise funds.

“We can’t do much in the winter, but we’re always looking for new ideas,” he said.

Williams said that they are extending their Empty Bowls program, which is run annually at Wittenberg and Urbana universities, for the first time at Ohio Hi-Point Career Center in Bellefontaine. They also have a car show in June at the C.J. Brown Reservoir.

“At the end, they are going to allow cars to drive across the dam, which will be something to see,” said Williamson.

Still, success is sometimes a matter of timing … and food storage capability.

“We had some donors step up with food donations, but a lot of it is frozen, and we don’t have place to store it,” he said.

What can be done to make up for the shortfall?

“Instead of giving someone four- or five-day supplies, you give them a three-day supply,” said Williamson.

Williamson remains optimistic.

“You never know where relief is going to come from,” he said. “Something else will come through.”

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