March 29, 2004
Hunger in America; Even suburbia is affected by needs that food pantries are struggling to meet
Yes, even in a nation where obesity is embarrassingly obvious, increasing numbers of people are going hungry.
Food pantries across the United States have been reporting for many months that the demand for their help is growing, even in suburbia, a place most Americans perceive as immune to hunger.
While chronic hunger is uncommon -- some studies show that nearly all hunger in this nation is short-term and episodic rather than continuous -- the number of people needing food assistance has been rising since 2001. Those numbers include working families suffering from what the government calls food insecurity: households confronted with limited or uncertain availability of food.
Figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show the number of all households needing food aid has risen since 1999 by about 1.5 million to just over 12 million and that the number of metropolitan households outside of inner-cities dealing with food shortages rose by about 252,000 to a total of more than 4 million from 2001 to 2002, the most recent period the figures were available.
The reasons for this are many, but unemployment and underemployment are common factors. Many families once with two wage-earners now struggle to pay bills with one income, often the lesser of the two.
People in charge of food pantries across the nation echo the words of Lisa Hamler-Podolski, executive director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks, who wrote in The Dispatch earlier this year, "Many of our most vulnerable citizens . . . are having to make choices between keeping the heat on, keeping a roof over their heads or keeping food on the table.''
The need has not abated; it has increased.
Keep food pantries in mind the next time you push a grocery cart down an aisle filled with signs that say, "Buy two, get one free.'' Keep them in mind when your church, employer or service club asks for donations of canned goods. This country is awash in food. Share the wealth.
March 25, 2004
Ohio Hunger Relief Providers Struggling to Make Ends Meet
A “perfect storm” of negative factors creates record shortages, unprecedented assistance needs for foodbanks
COLUMBUS -- Reports of an economic recovery are not reflected in the latest data available on the number of Ohioans who have sought emergency food assistance in recent months. The 12 certified America’s Second Harvest Foodbanks and more than 3,000 food pantries, soup kitchens and other hunger-relief programs that are part of the network of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks (OASHF) are experiencing record increases in the number of families seeking assistance, at a time when a combination of negative factors have reduced the available supply of food for hunger relief.
Located in all 88 Ohio counties, the OASHF network, Ohio’s largest charitable response to hunger, has experienced unprecedented service increases in the first quarter of State Fiscal Year (SFY) 2004, when compared to the fourth quarter of SFY 2003. The number of total people served is up 42 percent to almost 1.8 million, and the number of children served has increased nearly 44 percent, from more than 500,000 to nearly 800,000 (in duplicated counts). During this period, almost 600,000 households requested food assistance across the state, while the number of pounds available to meet the demand increased by less than four percent.
“While news reports suggest an economic recovery, too many Ohioans still are struggling to put food on the table,” said Lisa Hamler-Podolski, OASHF Executive Director. “Through an essential state funding source, Ohio has been able to create valuable partnerships that allow our state to address the food needs of our most vulnerable citizens, but it is just not enough to meet the unprecedented demand our foodbanks are experiencing.”
Hunger Community Hit by the “Perfect Storm”
The increased need for assistance comes at a time when numerous negative factors have hit the hunger community hard. Food donations across the country are down. Food retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers are increasing their efforts to sell surplus products to secondary markets and discount stores that traditionally would have been donated to hunger relief agencies. In addition, innovations in manufacturing and distributing processes have led to fewer donations in product because of a lack of surplus inventory.
Hamler-Podolski said that while the monies allocated for OASHF in the Ohio state budget have traditionally allowed the organization to provide food across the state, the increases in requests to local foodbanks, food pantries and soup kitchens – combined with the negative factors reducing the supply of food to hunger relief providers – require the organization to redirect its efforts to seeking assistance from the private sector and from individual Ohioans.
Signs of Continuing Challenges
Statistics indicate that, in Ohio, the challenges facing the state’s citizens are far from over.
For the third year in a row, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported an increase in the number of unemployed Ohioans. Since 2000, Ohio’s unemployment has risen from 4 percent to 6.2 percent (1/04).
36 percent of families served by OASHF report that they must decide between paying rent/mortgage bills and buying food, and 45 percent must choose between groceries and heating/cooling bills.
Nationwide, more than eight million Americans remained unemployed in January 2004, and of those, almost two million had been out of work for more than 27 weeks.
Nearly 10 percent of Ohioans are classified as “food insecure” according to the USDA.
61% of the low-income households served by OASHF are participating in the federal food stamp program yet benefits are insufficient to meet their total need for food.
93% of the households served by OASHF report they had to use a food pantry or soup kitchen because they had either been laid-off, were working in low wage part-time jobs or were living on low fixed incomes.
Unemployment continues to rise across the state as more Ohioans are losing their jobs, which further increases the demand for emergency food as Ohioans struggle to feed their families. “In December of 2003, only five Ohio counties reported unemployment rates higher than 10 percent, but in January 2004, 17 Ohio counties posted unemployment rates in excess of 10 percent, ranging from 10.2 percent in Scioto County to a high of 22.4 percent in Morgan County,” said Hamler-Podolski.
Growing Demand for Food Purchased with State Funds
Hamler-Podolski said that Ohio is one of only a few states that support a concerted hunger relief effort, providing state funding for two innovative hunger lifelines – the Ohio Food Program (OFP) and the Ohio Agricultural Surplus Production Alliance (OASPA). Demand for the food provided through these two programs today far exceeds the funds available through the partnership with the State of Ohio.
Since its inception in 1997, OFP has provided more than 23.7 million pounds of shelf-stable foods such as peanut butter, ground meats, tuna fish, and cereals to families in need. OASPA has reimbursed Ohio farmers, growers and commodity producers for the cost to pick, produce, pack and transport nearly 28 million pounds of surplus high-protein agriculture products including fruits, vegetables, chickens and eggs.
Ohio Mirrors a National Concern
According to America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s largest hunger relief organization providing emergency food assistance to more than 23 million Americans annually, Ohio is just part of a larger national concern about hunger. The agency reports that:
Nine million food recipients are children, and three million are over age 65;
35 million Americans are “food insecure,” and of those, 13 million are children;
The number of people facing hunger has grown annually, from just over 10 percent in 2000 up to more than 11 percent in 2002; and
For the second year in a row, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the number of Americans living in poverty rose, while the average wages of Americans declined.
Ohioans can help in hunger response by donating time, money or food to Ohio’s network of Second Harvest Foodbanks. Every $1 in cash contributions allows the foodbank to purchase five pounds of food. To donate, please contact OASHF at 614/221-4336 or visit the organization’s web site at www.oashf.org.
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NOTE: INTERVIEW/PHOTO OPPORTUNITIES AVAILABLE WITH SECOND HARVEST AND LOCAL FOODBANKS. LOCAL STATISTICS AND TOURS OF HUNGER RELIEF ORGANIZATIONS CAN BE PROVIDED.
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