Food pantries in Springfield and surrounding communities have seen higher numbers of people in need of hunger relief, local leaders said, even though food insecurity rates have remained level recently.
The Second Harvest Food Bank of Clark, Champaign and Logan Counties has distributed more than 4.3 million pounds of food so far this year, Executive Director Tyra Jackson said. That equals about 3.6 million meals going to about 600 new families each month in the three-county region.
“A lot of times people think the same people are always coming,” Jackson said. “People will come up to us and say they only use it when they need to use it … We’re seeing an increase in each one of the counties.”
The food bank distributed more than 5.1 million pounds of food in 2015. Last year, it distributed 5.8 million pounds of food, equaling about 4.8 million meals, she said.
The food bank increasingly sees people who have jobs but don’t earn enough to make ends meet, Jackson said.
“A lot of people seeking help may have jobs,” she said. “Even the slightest increase may knock them out of having benefits. If they’re not receiving SNAP (food stamp) benefits, they may need to utilize our programming possibly.”
The food insecurity rate in Clark County was about 15.8 percent in 2015, the latest year the data’s available, according to the Map the Meal Gap project completed annually by Feeding America. That means more than 21,000 people here didn’t get the food they need. More than $10.5 million would be needed to fully meet the need for food in Clark County, the report says.
The food insecurity rate in Clark County was about 16.3 percent in 2014.
More than 32,000 food insecure people live in the three-county region served by Second Harvest, the report says. The food insecurity rate in the food bank’s area is 14.7 percent.
Springfield resident Jinada Madison recently had hip surgery and needed help with food as she’s currently unable to work. She was one of about a dozen people standing in the rain waiting for the Second Harvest food pantry to open earlier this month.
“It’s really good how they help people,” Madison said. “Some people have a hard time, especially with this being around the holidays. Some people have disabilities and can’t work. It’s wonderful they do this.”
The need is great in Springfield, she said. The area has many great food pantries, including churches, Madison said, including with fresh food.
“There are so many people that need help,” she said. “It’s great that you can come to a place where people will help you. It’s a blessing.”
Fewer Clark County residents live below the poverty line over the past five years due to an increase in median household income, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. However Clark County still has one of the lowest median household incomes in southwest Ohio at $46,800 last year, up from about $39,000 in 2012.
Clark County’s poverty rate of 14.5 percent in 2015 reached its lowest point since 2008, according to data released this month from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Last year, it was 18.4 percent and it peaked at 20.6 percent in 2010.
The median household income in Springfield between 2011 and 2015 was about $32,000 annually and about 29 percent of people live in poverty, census data shows.
Many people who seek food at Second Harvest have one lower-paying full-time job or multiple part-time jobs, neither of which can sustain a household, Jackson said.
“It’s not a living wage,” she said.
Each week, the pantry at Second Harvest sees between 1,600 and 1,700 unique households, Jackson said. They can see between 80 and 120 households per day in families with as many as 10 individuals, she said.
“It’s not just Springfield,” Second Harvest Development Director Rose Bradley said. “It’s all over the community.”
During the colder months, the food bank’s mobile food pantry will serve food about 2o to 22 events per month, including about seven in each county.
In the summer, the mobile pantry will provide food to residents about 35 events per month, including multiple areas per day, she said.
This year, they began fresh produce mobile programs, as well as pantries for children in all three counties. The agency also began a new program where children are fed hot meals during the summer months and receive a backpack of food for the weekend, she said.
The agency’s backpack program — which provides meals to children as they leave school each weekend — grew to about 780 participants each week, she said. However, a lack of funding has reduced the funding to about 250 participants. They hope to expand the program again in the future, but she said it’s more costly than other programs.
The Enon Emergency Relief food pantry averages about 10 families per week and has reached a high of about 25 families per week within the Greenon Local School District, Treasurer Dennis Hoffman said.
“The community really supports what we do here,” he said. “Every time we have a need, they respond.”
It serves seniors, large families and single-parent households from 2:30 to 5 p.m. Mondays.
The Enon food pantry, which opened in 1962, expects a big increase in the next few months as the holidays approach, Hoffman said. It’s also seeing many people who have multiple part-time jobs, he said, or who have to commute for work and don’t have money for gas.
“When a person comes in here, we want to feel like they’re valued and that we’re here to help,” he said.
With policy changes being discussed by lawmakers for SNAP benefits, commonly known as food stamps, more people may need assistance from local pantries, Jackson said. One possible change could be identification required on SNAP cards to cut down on fraud.
That could lead to problems with transportation for older residents, Jackson said.
“Often people that need assistance don’t really have a way to the store so people may pick up things for them, especially the elderly,” she said.
Second Harvest has seen a decrease in donations recently, which Jackson said was likely caused by tragic hurricanes in Texas and Florida.
“A lot of times resources go (out of town),” Jackson said. “We even helped (collect food) and were sending it off to other places.”
Through its affiliation with Feeding America, the food bank is only able to purchase food in its three-county service area. Reiter Dairy, Klosterman Bakery and Gordon Food Service, as well as local grocery stores, have been great partners helping the food bank, Jackson said.
“They give us what they can,” she said.
Food donations are always welcome, Jackson said. But for every $1 donated, the agency can provide between four and five meals, she said.
“We can go and do much more with the dollar,” she said.