Hunger has grown greater than ever in Springfield — named the most food insecure city in Ohio earlier this year — with hundreds of new families seeking assistance each month.
While the unemployment rate improved to about 4.2 percent and 1,000 jobs were added in Clark County last month, the working poor remain in need of food assistance, said Tyra Jackson, executive director of the Second Harvest Food Bank.
The poor often must chose whether to pay bills, pay for transportation to work or purchase medications, she said.
“It’s a real struggle and often food is the last thing they try to skimp on,” Jackson said.
The pantry recently expanded in September to include evening hours, she said, which has allowed more people to use its services.
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.
Food insecurity is a greater problem than most people realize, she said.
“It’s not anything anyone necessarily wants to talk about,” Jackson said. “It’s just a growing need and a concern for all of our community partners to be able to have the resources to help feed people.”
Early next year, the agency will look at adding Saturday hours once a month.
“Each month we’re seeing an increase,” Jackson said. “Extending our pantry hours has made a huge impact.”
In just November, the Second Harvest Food Bank’s pantry served more than 1,700 people.
“We’re seeing six, seven, eight members in a family,” she said.
The number of people living at or below the poverty low has increased by more than 5.5 percent in Springfield over the past five years, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
In 2009, nearly 35 percent of individuals lived in households with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level or about $40,000 for a family of three. That rose to about 40 percent last year, the largest percentage in Ohio per capita.
About 3.8 million people are eligible for food assistance in Ohio.
Second Harvest Food Bank is looking at different ways to serve the community as some businesses have left and people have lost their jobs, Jackson said. The organization is also working with 70 other agencies to increase their efforts locally.
“We’re seeing more people come who need assistance,” Jackson said. “We’re trying to figure out what the true needs are for the community.”
The food bank has also expanded its mobile food pantry to serve more than 20 different locations per month. The organization may also partner with Community Mercy Health Partners to provide health screenings at mobile pantry locations, which serves about 130 families per session.
Teresa Holobaugh, a Springfield resident, came to one of the mobile food pantries last week. Catholic Charities and the Second Harvest Food Bank have saved her family, she said.
“There’s times when I have my grand kids when there’s nothing there,” Holobaugh said. “They’re just wonderful people. They do what they can to help everyone.”
Holobaugh, who has disabilities, recently had her food stamps cut from about $200 to $59 per month, she said. She lives with her sister and her daughter, who has six children.
“What can you eat off of that?” Holobaugh asked. “If it weren’t for (the food bank), I wouldn’t survive.”
Local food pantries and soup kitchens said the need for food continues to increase at their locations.
The food pantry at St. Vincent de Paul in Springfield serves about 50 families per week, said volunteer Jerry Lawrence. On Dec. 1, it assisted 27 families for a total of about 70 people, including 29 children.
Families have to qualify under federal poverty standards to receive food, Lawrence said, but the pantry is always full with people seeking assistance.
“There’s a lot of working poor,” Lawrence said. “A lot of these people are poor, but they’re only making minimum wage or working part-time. A lot of them are single mothers with children. It’s tough for someone to make it.”
The people seeking food from the Springfield Soup Kitchen come from all walks of life, said owner Fred Stegner, including the poor, homeless and disabled. The kitchen serves about 500 people per week and often provides two meals per night.
“We see a lot of people in distress,” Stegner said. “There’s a thousand different reasons they come here.”
Second Harvest is also working with smaller communities in Clark County, Jackson said, where people have a more difficult time getting into Springfield.
The Enon Emergency Relief food pantry averages about 15 families per week and has reached a high of about 30 families per week within the Greenon Local School District, Treasurer Dennis Hoffman said.
“For us, that’s quite a bit,” Hoffman said.
The Enon food pantry, which opened in 1962, has noticed an increase in the need for assistance over the past two to three years, Hoffman said, especially as the federal government has decreased funding for food assistance. It serves seniors, large families and single-parent households.
“People need to spread their resources out more,” Hoffman said. “Everybody is suffering in some way, shape or form in all of the different categories.”
Second Harvest recently received a $10,000 grant from the Red Nose Campaign to begin a backpack program, Jackson said. With that funding, it will start a 20-week pilot food program at Fulton Elementary School beginning next month.
After collecting about 5.8 million pounds of food last year, the food bank has collected about 4.7 million through Nov. 30.
Second Harvest always needs more protein, including meat, dairy and eggs. Canned food donations are always accepted, Jackson said, but the organization can stretch a dollar by purchasing food at cheaper rates.
Envelopes were provided in numerous editions of the Springfield News-Sun and can be mailed to Springfield News-Sun Food Relief, c/o Security National Bank, P.O. Box 1408S, Springfield, OH 45501. Donations can also be online at springfieldnewssun.com/foodrelief.
“If people can donate money, it’s always very helpful,” Jackson said. “We can do twice the amount with that money than if people went out and bought things.”
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