Cold months bring new challenges to those who are food insecure, officials say

As temperatures dropped Thursday and continue to plummet today, area free food distributors are concerned about the increased community needs in coming months.

Upcoming colder months often result in more local families struggling to buy food, officials said, and the issues surrounding hunger could worsen at a time when food is more expensive.

The Foodbank, which serves the region, has distributed about 15 million to 18 million pounds of food each year over the last couple of years, said Lauren Tappel of the local food bank. She said the cost of lean proteins, fruits and vegetables have risen over the last few months and is impacting the most vulnerable.

“It disproportionately affects those who were struggling with food security already and weren’t able to stretch those dollars to meet all the necessities of life: rent, utilities medical bills, car payments, student loans, you name it in addition to groceries,” Tappel said. “It’s a lot easier to skip a meal or two or several and make sure that your kids have food. Or skip a few meals and pay your rent versus be at risk of losing your home.”

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September is Hunger Action Month and the local foodbank is recognizing the struggle many are having by hosting events throughout the community including a number of food distributions.

More than 10% of households in the US were food insecure in 2021, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. About 12% of households with children also faced food insecurity in 2021, meaning at times it wasn’t clear if their family would have money or other necessitates to acquire food, the USDA said.

Fred Stegner, who runs the Springfield Soup Kitchen, said he has seen an increase of people coming to his establishment looking for food. The soup kitchen and its volunteers served more than 300 people Monday night.

He said children and their families have regularly come to eat and said it’s important no one goes without a meal.

“We are just trying to feed as many as we can day-to-day,” he said. “Our mission is to provide hot meals for those who can’t cook for themselves or who are poor and in need. We refuse no one.”

People suffering from addiction, economic hardship and people with disabilities come to his kitchen to eat for free, he said. He said rising prices have caused him to stock up on items now just in case they go even higher in the future. He said he gets good community support that allows him to continue to operate the kitchen.

The kitchen is open Mondays and Wednesdays and guests are served like they are at a restaurant, he said.

“Coming to the soup kitchen is a bright spot in people’s lives and everyone feels safe there,” he said. “Everyone has a smile on their face and it’s very happy. We try to make it a nice moment for those who struggle every day, that they have a moment where they can relax and feel comfortable.”

Tappel said the Dayton food bank has battled supply chain disruptions over the last few months and the change in season will bring new challenges. The Foodbank usually sees an increase in need during colder months, she said.

“Because of the holidays, people are kind of spending some disposable income on gifts, they want to have large meals to share with their families and loved ones, and then, of course, the heating bills are always a big strain for families,” she said.

The USDA announced last week it was spending nearly $2 billion to help food banks and other food assistance programs in America. About $1 billion will be going to emergency food providers like food banks and money will also be spent with schools to purchase food and other food assistance programs.

Tappel said the money will help the local food bank, but it probably won’t come into play until January. Until then, she said the food bank is strategizing to meet the existing needs of families now.

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