News-Sun kicks off annual food relief drive

There, at the Second Harvest Food Bank, 60,000 pounds of food used to last two months.

“Now it’s lasting a couple of weeks, at that,” regional director Keith Williamson said.

Today, the Springfield News-Sun kicks off its annual food relief campaign in collaboration with Catholic Charities and the nondenominational Second Harvest Food Bank of Clark, Champaign and Logan Counties.

The campaign, which will run until Jan. 1, traditionally had been held during the summer months. But, not only are people more compassionate during the holidays, it’s the time of year when those in need also find themselves in peril.

“People can’t pay their utility bills, either,” Williamson said.

The campaign’s goal is simply to best the 2011 total of about $26,200, which was down from previous years at a time when need is going up.

Every dollar counts — in fact, the food bank can provide four meals for every $1 it receives.

Statewide, Ohio food banks distributed 45 percent more food in fiscal year 2012 than they did at the height of the recession in 2009.

Not only are people still unemployed or now underemployed, but high gas prices fuel high food prices.

“Everything seems to be going up except wages,” Williamson said.

The local food bank has seen a 75 percent increase in demand the past four years from the 75 agencies it serves, he said.

Some of those pantries, staffed mostly by older volunteers, physically can’t keep up with the demand, Williamson said.

When Second Harvest sets up its mobile food pantry, he said, as many as 800 people have shown up.

“It’s alarming,” he said.

The year-old mobile food pantry already has distributed more than 362,850 pounds of food to more than 19,200 people, he said, and half of those seeking assistance have never asked for help before.

“It just shocks people,” he said. “They never thought they’d be in that position.”

“People are still struggling to get by,” Williamson said. “There’s still a housing crisis going on, whether people believe it or not. I’ve seen people with college degrees in here, master’s degrees, looking for food.

“The face of poverty is vastly different. It could be any of us.”

Williamson calls the situation “eye opening.”

“You never imagined it’d be this bad,” he said. “As fast as I get food in the food bank, it goes right back out to the agencies.”

Williamson said he’s been asked by other food banks what he’s doing about security for the mobile pantry — food riots have been reported in other parts of the country.

Locally, everyone has so far been civil when food runs out, he said.

“I just keep hoping this will turn around,” Williamson said. “It’s amazing that in a country that’s so rich in food that hunger could be such a big problem.”

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