Coronavirus: Springfield food bank serving 66% more clients than year ago

Volunteers from the Springfield Arts Council distributed food for the Second Harvest Food Bank Wednesday in Veteran’s Park. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Volunteers from the Springfield Arts Council distributed food for the Second Harvest Food Bank Wednesday in Veteran’s Park. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

The demand for the Second Harvest Food Bank’s services has escalated significantly since March when Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed orders from the Ohio Department of Health restricting residents’ movement and closing many area businesses in hopes of slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

Tyra Jackson, executive director of the food bank based in Springfield, said weekly costs are up about $15,000, and she anticipates needing to raise $500,000 to keep up with demand as the food bank works to provide more food to more people in more ways.

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Typically the group operates with a budget that includes $1.5 million in cash and another $10 million worth of food, but the pandemic has raised the number of people in Clark, Champaign and Logan County that need assistance.

The food bank served nearly a year’s worth of customers from January through May alone as 11,982 households representing nearly 35,000 people sought SHFB’s services either directly or through one of its partners, according to data Jackson provided.

That is an increase of 66% over the same period a year ago.

Inside those numbers is another Jackson called “alarming”: Nearly 20,000 of the people served this year had never used the food bank before, an increase of 132 percent.

Jackson said the pandemic has “only intensified the issues of the instability of households. Before all of this began over 60% of the people who utilized our pantry network or food bank network had jobs. Several of them had multiple jobs. They were working minimum wage jobs, and they were just trying to make it out, and these food resources that were able to allow for that.”

The threat of COVID-19 has changed many aspects of society but not the mission of the food bank.

“Our main goal is to make sure that no one’s going hungry, and we’re finding different avenues, different resources to reach people in different ways,” Jackson said.

With part of the area already reeling from the loss of the Kroger on South Limestone in early March, the food bank has added delivery to serve those who can’t get out or lack transportation.

“A lot of seniors came through our pantry to get fresh produce and different things, so we started a home delivery,” said Jackson, who noted some of their distribution partners have closed because the bulk of their volunteers are also seniors, who are more likely to face serious consequences if they contract the disease. “We are taking approximately 200 home deliveries each week to seniors and people who are disabled who can’t necessarily make it or don’t have transportation and can’t make it to one of the distributions or to one of our partner agencies to help them receive food as well.”

Deliveries are an added cost for the food bank, though, as is providing personal protective equipment for volunteers along with simply needing more food to provide to those in need.

“We’re working diligently to raise those additional funds,” Jackson said. “Fortunately the community has really rallied and has assisted us.

“A lot of the people who may have been able to give in the past aren’t necessarily capable or able to do that at this time, so we’re really looking at new donors. We’re looking for people who are still able to assist but maybe have never given before or the donors who are able to assist, maybe they can increase what they have given before to assist with this.

“We’re looking locally, we’re looking at state options and also just things throughout the entire nation to make sure that we are going to be able to provide the critical need of food. It’s not a want, and no one should have to wonder or be concerned that they won’t know where their next meal is going to come from. So we are working to make sure that we’re going to be able to supply the food that we need to do that.”

Having started in 1981, the Second Harvest Food Bank is not new, but it is newly independent.

After operating as part of Catholic Charities Southwestern Ohio, the SHFB officially became its own organization in January.

READ MORE: Food bank celebrates independence

Jackson said had that not happened, it would have ceased to exist, but many in the community stepped up to prevent its disappearance.

“Second Harvest would not have been here come January 1 if the community had not rallied to make sure we had the funds to remain here, which is very important because of the work that we’re doing at this critical time,” Jackson said. “And I think people see the importance of our food bank.”

It’s a job that has become even more critical with the closing of the Kroger and the onset of the pandemic.

“Second Harvest Food Bank is a great community partner and resource,” Springfield city manager Bryan Heck said. “They have stepped up in a huge way in 2020, both in meeting the needs of our community in terms of access to food following the closure of the South Limestone Kroger and during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

With 65 partner distribution agencies including pantries, soup kitchens, feeding sites and other nonprofits, the SHFB serves Clark, Champaign and Logan Counties.

“We have drivers that go out daily Monday through Friday and we rescue food from stores,” she said. “We go to all of the Krogers and Walmarts in our three-county service area – we also go to Aldi and the Gordon’s Food Service distribution center – and any items that they can’t necessarily sell because they might have a little dent or one item in the package is dented so they can’t sell it at the marketplace or in the regular stores, we’re able to get it and distribute it to people who need food.”

While more than 50 percent of the bank’s food is distributed directly to those in need, organizations such as the Enon Emergency Relief Food Pantry also rely on the SHFB to fulfill their mission of helping people in the Greenon school district avoid hunger.

"Second Harvest Food Bank has maintained their efforts and has continued to be such a blessing to the community," EER president Karen Olson said in March as her organization saw an increase in families in need.

With more people in need, the SHFB will need more support moving forward.

Typically it receives more than 500,000 private donations along with some government assistance and grants from organizations such as the United Way.

“The food bank has done an absolutely amazing job in the midst of this pandemic,” said Kerry Lee Pedraza, executive director of the United Way for Clark, Champaign and Madison Counties. “They have shown great leadership and great generosity throughout the entire community. They’ve stepped up to the plate and gone above and beyond typically what it is that you think of. They’ve been a leader in the community and ensuring that people have food available to them.”

While the food bank typically accepts food donations, including not just canned goods but fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers and meat from butchers, Jackson said at this time financial contributions are preferred because her organization can make dollars go farther thanks to its ability to buy in bulk.

“Every dollar that we receive, we’re able to provide five meals because of our buying power,” Jackson said.

Those in need who would like to utilize the food bank’s services can do so through one of multiple channels.

“Of course they can call us at 937-325-8715,” Jackson said. “We have a resource calling center at this time (extension 103) with which we can sort of help them figure out what resources are available, what we can assist with and if any of our partner agencies are open near them.”

They also share information through the United Way via its 211 line.

“All of our distribution partners are listed there so 24 hours a day they can call 211 and they can find out where there is a food resource available in their area,” Jackson said. “And then we also have social media and our website (www.theshfb.org) where we post everything we have scheduled and any updates to where we’re going to be.”

READ MORE: Foodbank to deploy more mobile pantries after Kroger closes Springfield store

Although the financial hardship the food bank is likely to face is exacerbated by two fundraisers expected to raise around $100,000 being canceled, Jackson said the food bank’s long-term viability does not appear to be in jeopardy at this time.

“We’re not seeing red flags now, but we are looking at this in the long run because we know that the effects of COVID are going to be long lasting, and we want to make sure that we’re here and we’re going to be able to provide the services that people need as the need continues to grow.

“Even if people go back to work today, the effects of being off for a month are going to be felt for a while,” Jackson said.

“Even before this whole pandemic, what food pantries have been really here for are we have a lot of people who live on the precipice. They pay their bills, but they are living paycheck to paycheck and sometimes it gets tight. We want, especially our seniors and households with children, is to make sure that they’re not making choices of whether to pay for their medication, pay their rent, keep their utilities on. Providing nutritious food to them at no cost will allow them to keep shelter, will allow them to have their utilities on, pay for gas to get to work. Those are the choices that people make on a daily basis.”

Facts & Figures

11,982: Number of households Second Harvest Food Bank served between January and May

20,000: Number of people using food bank for first time

$500,000: Anticipated amount needed in fundraising to keep up with demand