Lines of Despair - A week long segment published by The Columbus Dispatch, June 2004

The Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks would like to thank The Columbus Dispatch for allowing OASHF to publish these stories. All stories, photographs, and charts are copywritten by The Columbus Dispatch.

Sunday, June 6, 2004

Over the brink and into poverty

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH, Sunday, June 6, 2004, Alan Johnson, Cahterine Candisky and Jonathan Rickind


It hides in plain sight in the hills of Appalachia, the cozy suburbs of central Ohio and the urban streets of Columbus.

Forty years after President Johnson came to southern Ohio to declare War on Poverty, the old enemy is making a comeback.

But this is the new poverty.

It’s not about those living in shacks or begging on the street, but about people from many walks of life who find themselves, often unexpectedly, struggling to meet their most basic needs.

This new poverty shows its face in Springfield, where a family of four eats popcorn and water for dinner — with peanut butter if they’re lucky; in Athens County, where a husband and wife work six jobs between them trying to make ends meet; and in Westerville, where a young mother repeatedly glues her own shoes together so she has enough money to buy new shoes for her two children.

But the most glaring evidence of Ohioans’ newfound struggles is the lengthening food lines across the state.

Dispatch reporters and photographers traveled to food lines during one week to learn why this supposed relic of the Great Depression has returned.

In that one week, from April 26 to May 1, the number of Ohioans served by food pantries statewide — more than 150,000 — would have filled Ohio Stadium one and a half times. Nearly 2 million pounds of food were distributed — enough to fill 70 tractor-trailers.

The number of people seeking help at food pantries statewide has risen three straight years.

The Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks, which serves much of Ohio through 3,000 agencies, reported a 44 percent increase in people seeking assistance during the first three months of this year compared with the last three months of 2003. At the same time, the food available at pantries rose just 4 percent.

And now beleaguered families of reserve and National Guard troops who have been stationed for months in Iraq or Afghanistan are showing up in food lines.

Vince Chase of Catholic Social Services of Clark, Champaign and Logan Counties, calls Ohio’s economic climate ‘‘Depressionlike," the worst he’s experienced in 30 years of helping people in need.

‘‘We’re seeing people who never thought they would be in this situation. Half of them are working people who have 10 to 15 to 20 years of work experience but don’t have jobs. There are no jobs.

‘‘It shows how fragile things can be for folks. You’re cruising along, and an illness, an accident, the loss of a job can throw you into poverty. It doesn’t take much for even middle-class people. Before you know it, you don’t have anything left."

In relatively affluent Butler County, where unemployment was 4.2 percent in April, President Bush said during a May 4 campaign stop that ‘‘the life of the average Ohio citizen is improving." Yet business is booming at The Lord’s Cupboard pantry in the county seat of Hamilton, where the number seeking help nearly quadrupled from 2000 to 2004.

Invisible Americans
It’s difficult to quantify those who have fallen into economic despair. Once workers lose their jobs and exhaust unemployment benefits, no agency counts them. When people go off welfare, the government doesn’t track whether they have become self-sufficient — the mantra of welfare reform.

And nobody knows for certain how many people line up for free food across the United States. The number seeking emergency food nationwide from Catholic Charities USA and its partners has jumped about 20 percent annually in recent years, said Sharon Daly, the charity’s vice president of social policy.

A U.S. Conference of Mayors survey of 25 cities in December 2003 found the demand at food pantries rose 17 percent over 2002. And the 2002 figure was 19 percent higher than the year before.

‘‘These folks have become invisible," said Jack Frech, director of the Athens County Department of Job and Family Services. ‘‘Yet we all see them, no matter what you do. If you go to a retail store, a nursing home, if you have a child in day care, you’re dealing with someone who has trouble feeding themselves.

‘‘These people have done everything society has asked them to do, and they are not seeing the rewards that society promised."

Daily struggles
Ohio’s new poor are not easily categorized.

They are young and out of work, old and struggling with high medical bills, downsized or laid off from manufacturing jobs, grandmothers raising grandchildren, couples working two or more low-wage jobs.

Most never thought they would be poor. Some don’t consider themselves poor now, and they aren’t compared to many who struggled through the Depression or reside in Third World countries.

Although pantries check income, advocates acknowledge that a few less-deserving people sometimes slip through the food lines. But for the vast majority, setting foot in a food line means overcoming a stigma. They come because they are desperate.

Sheila Miller, who was laid off as a $36,000-a-year supervisor of an assisted-living company, came to a Logan pantry for the first time recently. Her husband works at a Haydenville sawmill, but the couple with two young children is having a hard time.

‘’It’s embarrassing to come here," said Miller, 30. ‘‘It makes me feel ignorant — like I’m trash, and I’m not.

‘‘Hopefully, there’ll be some things in here my kids will eat," she said after her car was loaded with food.

Ginger Walls’ unemployment ran out in February, leaving the single mother of two from Carbon Hill in Hocking County with $500 a month in child support and $359 in food stamps.

‘‘I’ve got a lot of stuff at the pawn shop, and I borrow from my dad to pay the bills until the child support comes," she said.

Since being laid off from her $10-an-hour job at Anchor Hocking in Lancaster nearly a year ago, Walls, 32, has been listed with three different temporary services; no one is hiring.

Mark Craig, 38, retired with a disability because of a back injury, relies on a food pantry to feed his wife and three children.

They have a monthly income of $1,993 from Social Security disability and family benefits. That’s about $24,000 a year — slightly above the federal poverty level for a family of five.

But after paying bills, the family has little left for food.

‘‘There’s been many times we’ve had popcorn and water for dinner, or popcorn and peanut butter. That’s no joke," said Craig, who gets food from a Springfield pantry.

‘‘Honest to God, I don’t know what we’d do without this place."

Gains and losses
Pointing to statistics showing 30,000 new jobs have been created since Jan. 1, Gov. Bob Taft says Ohio’s economy is beginning to rebound. But he acknowledges hardship and suffering.

‘‘We know what the economic recession and downturn did. There are a lot of people out of work . . . You have increases in the number of working poor, struggling to make ends meet."

State government has tried to help, Taft said, increasing aid to food banks to $4.5 million a year from $2.5 million; donating 450,000 meals through the state employee Operation Feed program; administering $1.3 billion in federal money for food stamps, school lunches and other programs; and increasing the number of children covered under the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

‘‘The answer to this is education . . . Upgrading the skills lev- els has got to be the central part of the strategy to help people, so this hardship is more of a transitional rather than a permanent hardship," Taft said.

As fever is a symptom of disease, hunger is a symptom of poverty.

U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show ‘‘food insecurity" — defined as being uncertain of having enough food for the household — is on the rise.

In 2002, the most recent year for which figures are available, 34.9 million Americans experienced ‘‘food insecurity" some time during the year. That’s up from 31 million in 1999.

‘‘This is not the recession of the ’70s, ’80s or ’90s," said Lisa Hamler-Podolski of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks. ‘‘They pale in comparison . . . It’s the worst I’ve ever seen.

‘‘Our food pantries and soup kitchens are merely a barometer of where we are in this state. I fear the worst is yet to come."

Difficult choices
Hunger is more than an aching belly.

David H. Holben, an associate professor of human and consumer sciences at Ohio University, found that families facing regular food insecurity had more illnesses, fatigue and depression. Children’s cognitive and academic abilities were impaired, too.

‘‘In southeastern Ohio," Holben said, ‘‘there are kids who leave school on Friday afternoon and don’t have a good meal until they come back to school on Monday morning."

Meanwhile, some charities are stretched to the breaking point.

At the Friends and Neighbors Community Choice Food Center in southern Athens County, near the Ohio River, free hot lunches are served to about 200 people and groceries go to 500 people each month — all on a $200 monthly budget.

When food ran out last summer, the center was forced to close for two weeks. More recently, those seeking help received only apples, potatoes and eggs made available through the state’s agriculture surplus program.

In Franklin County, the Salvation Army’s fastest growing chapel is in Worthington Woods on the Far North Side, where the demand for food and clothing assistance tripled since last year.

‘‘Many families who live in the area have experienced increases in the cost of rent and food, while their wages have stayed static or declined," said Michelle Hannan, social services coordinator for the Salvation Army.

The chapel is now open 20 hours a week and helps about 65 families a month.

Return of old enemy
In 1964, President Johnson launched his War on Poverty during a series of speeches, including one at Ohio University in Athens. He called for solutions ‘‘which have eluded mankind since the beginning of time."

Four decades later, the answers remain elusive.

‘‘America has never been wealthier as a nation, as real per capita income today is about twice that of the early 1970s, but millions of workers still have difficulty earning enough to support their families," said Sheldon Danziger, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

George Zeller, senior researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland, said as Ohio’s large manufacturing base has shrunk, it has become more difficult for people to work their way out of poverty. That’s because traditional blue-collar jobs paying much above minimum wage are disappearing.

At the same time, Ohio’s personal-income growth ranked last among the 50 states from April 2002 to April 2003, according to Washington-based State Policy Reports.

The economy and jobs will be the domestic flashpoint of the 2004 presidential election.

President Bush maintains that the economy remains capable of generating plenty of goodpaying jobs and is leaping out of recession and back into boom times, thanks in large part to his 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.

During a speech in Dayton last month, Bush said ‘‘there are still people who hurt, and I understand that. There are people in parts of Ohio who haven’t felt the recovery yet. But we’re getting better."

Presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry says much more can be done to help lowand middle-income Americans get ahead. He backs the middleclass tax cuts but wants to repeal tax cuts for those making $200,000 and up.

During an April campaign stop in Cincinnati, Kerry announced an economic plan he says would create 10 million new jobs in the next four years, including more than 400,000 in Ohio.

‘‘In America, a rising tide is supposed to lift all boats — but in the Bush tide, the middleclass boat is taking on water," Kerry said.

As for John Life, 68, a volunteer at the Coolville pantry, he fears hard times from the past are knocking at the door.

‘‘Things were rough in my day. I once supported three families driving a cab," Life said. ‘‘It’s getting that way again."

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Monday, June 7, 2004

Hunger gets a toehold in the burbs

Monday, June 07, 2004, Catherine Candisky and Alan Johnson, THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Special Report

  • Lines of Despair

    Thousands of Ohioans are showing up more frequently in food lines. They are the new poor. The Dispatch spent a week with them to learn their stories


    Angel Buckley supports her children, Briana, 9, and Cody, 7, by earning $10.65 an hour as an assistant director of a day-care center.


    Lisa Shilling, a Westerville single mother who relies on cheap entertainment out of necessity, often takes her children to area parks. During a recent visit, Joey, 7, gets a hug after making it across the monkey bars for the first time.


    A struggling single mom, Angel Buckley sells raffle tickets and does other work for a Westerville baseball league to cover league fees so her son, Cody, can play ball.

    Sweaty and red-faced after scrambling across the monkey bars and chasing his sister on a Westerville playground, 7-year-old Joey Shilling froze when he heard the music of an approaching ice cream truck. ‘‘Mom!" he yelled. ‘‘Can I get ice cream?" From nowhere, his sister Rachel, 5½, raced to his side. ‘‘I don’t have any money until I get paid Friday. You can have a Popsicle when we get home," said their mother.

    Without complaint, the children ran off to play.

    Four days until payday, and Lisa Shilling, 37, was broke. Her last $20 went into the family’s Ford Escort station wagon.

    ‘‘It used to cost me $12 to fill the tank; now it costs me $20."

    Getting by as a single parent earning $7.68 an hour as an assistant Head Start teacher is a challenge.

    But her plight shows that hunger and poverty exist even in the tidy suburbs ringing Columbus. You just have to look harder.

    ‘‘I didn’t expect what I saw when I started here," said Lori Humphrey, director of Wester- ville Area Resources Ministry, a charitable effort of 20 churches that serves about 24 families a week in the city school district. ‘‘I’ve lived here 18 years; it’s not very obvious.

    ‘‘I was really shocked at the need and hit hard by the numbers."

    Humphrey came to realize that many people, even affluent suburbanites, are just an illness, an accident, a fire or a divorce away from poverty.

    ‘‘Those are the ones that hit you the hardest. You realize you’re not that far removed."

    It hit Angel Buckley hard.

    That was clear as she stood nervously in front of an audience of 250 community and business leaders and clergy during the ministry’s prayer breakfast last month at the Westerville Community Center.

    Buckley described her struggle raising two children after her divorce in 2000, and how she finally turned to the organization of churches for food about 18 months ago.

    ‘‘I was ashamed to be there," she said in shakey voice. ‘‘I sat in my chair, and I wept."

    Buckley, 31, rents a half-double in Strawberry Farms with her children, Briana, 9, and Cody, 7. She earns $10.65 an hour as assistant director of a day-care center. But because her bills exceed her income, she starts each month $200 in the red.

    She is supposed to receive court-ordered child support but said her ex-husband pays sporadically.

    Unable to afford rent, Buckley moved her kids to a succession of smaller homes three times over an 18-month period.

    ‘‘It’s not that I don’t want to pay my bills. It’s not that I’m ignoring those phone calls. I just can’t pay them," she said.

    ‘‘I’ll go months and months without a haircut . . . I’ll wait until the kids get enough haircuts to get a free haircut."

    To save money, she glued her shoes together repeatedly until they fell apart.

    Through the church outreach program, Buckley has received food and money to help pay legal bills in the ongoing child-support battle. Her church sponsored Briana and Cody at Christmas.

    The tough times are not over. But Buckley said through tears at the prayer breakfast that her faith, although shaken at times, has been restored.

    ‘‘God has faith in me even when I don’t have faith in myself."

    Single-parent families like the Buckleys and Shillings face increasingly hard times.

    U.S. Census Bureau figures show that single parents of both genders are more likely to be poverty stricken than families headed by a married couple, but that single women tend to be far worse off economically.

    Nearly half of families headed by one parent as a result of divorce drop into the poverty ranks, according to a report by the Heritage Foundation, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

    About 4 percent of women who worked for hourly wages report earning at or below the federal minimum wage, compared to 2 percent of men, according to U.S. Department of Labor 2002 statistics.

    Some advocates point to gender-wage inequality as a culprit.

    ‘‘While education reduces the likelihood of being poor for both men and women, women are much more likely to be poor than men with the same level of education," said a 2002 report by the National Organization for Women Legal Defense and Education Fund.

    The bottom line is that ‘‘there are a lot more single women raising kids than 30 or 40 years ago," said Rebecca M. Blank, dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. ‘‘And women’s wages remain below men."

    Low pay plagues Schilling, who skips church some Sundays so she has enough gas to get back and forth to work.

    ‘‘Most of the people have nice houses and don’t realize that there are people here trying to rub two pennies together."

    Shilling knows. She used to be one of them.

    A 1985 graduate of Westerville South High School, Shilling grew up in a middle-class family and was working at CompuServe when she got married in 1992. When Joey was born, she quit. Five months before Rachel was born, her husband left.

    Shilling was homeless and received welfare until her exhusband started paying $394 a month in child support. She and her children lived in an unheated apartment and with her parents before finding subsidized housing.

    As a teacher’s aide, she earns about $15,000 a year, just under the federal poverty rate for a family of three. She relies on Westerville Area Resources Ministry and her church for help.

    It was rough last fall when she was laid off after the state cut Head Start funding and her center closed. She found a $10-anhour temporary job at Riverside Methodist Hospital.

    But under government rules, the $2.32 hourly raise meant she no longer qualified for subsidized child care. Instead of paying $171 a month, she paid $170 a week.

    ‘‘The welfare office told me to find a lower paying job or put in for part time," Shilling said.

    So when a Head Start job at another center became open, she took it. Although she doesn’t make quite as much, Shilling qualifies for subsidized child care and her employer pays her tuition for online classes at Columbus State Community College.

    Someday she hopes to be an elementary school teacher — and to have enough money for ice cream.

    Dispatch reporter Jonathan Riskind contributed to this story.

    [email protected]; [email protected]

    Tuesday, June 8, 2004

    A life of scraping by _ the plight of the working poor

    Tuesday, June 08, 2004, Catherine Candisky and Alan Johnson, THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH


    Zachary Barringer, 9, plays on a trampoline outside his family’s trailer in rural Athens County near the Ohio River.

    To avoid confusion, Melissa Barringer must carefully keep track of her three jobs and schedule of college classes.


    Kyle, left, and Zachary Barringer help their dad, Brian, unload cans, wood and scrap metal, which they recycle to supplement the family’s income.

    COOLVILLE, Ohio — Between them, Brian and Melissa Barringer have six jobs, yet they’re still struggling in this corner of Appalachian Ohio.

    Brian, 41, is a jack-of-all-trades, earning $8.55 an hour working at gas wells, a car wash and a flea market. To make a few extra bucks, he gathers scrap metal. He knows from experience that 13 bags of flattened aluminum beer and soda cans will fill the back of his 1996 Chevy pickup truck and put $60 in his pocket from the recycling center.

    Melissa, 37, works as an aide in a nursing home, a public school and a school for the mentally retarded. She makes $8.29 an hour as a nurse’s aide and $5 to $6 an hour at the other jobs.

    Despite back-breaking work and hours that are often dawn to dusk, the Bar- ringers barely have enough money to clothe and feed their three boys: Eric, 18, Kyle, 12, and Zachary, 9.

    Often, Melissa ends up at the Friends and Neighbors Community Choice Food Center in this southeastern Athens County town, where on a recent visit she received potatoes, apples, eggs and canned goods.

    ‘‘There’s weeks we basically live on what we get from here," she said.

    ‘‘At first, I was really embarrassed, especially when I’d see someone I knew that I hadn’t seen for a while. But then I got to thinking, ‘They’re here for the same reason I am.’ "

    The Barringers’ earnings totaled $26,000 last year, about $4,000 above the federal poverty level for a family of five.

    As with most working poor, they make too much for government assistance, but with utility, gas and food costs rising, it’s not enough to pay their bills.

    ‘‘It seems like his check is gone as soon as he gets it," Melissa said.

    Folks who run food pantries across Ohio say more and more of their clientele is like the Barringers: They have jobs but still can’t make ends meet.

    Nationally, about 4.9 percent of the labor force — 6.8 million people — met the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics definition of working poor in 2001: those at or below the official poverty level while holding jobs for 27 weeks or more over a year.

    The federally mandated minimum hourly wage hasn’t come close to keeping up with inflation, say many advocates.

    ‘‘During most years of the 1960s, a full-time, all-year, minimum-wage job generated a paycheck that lifted a typical Ohio family out of poverty," said the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies in a ‘‘State of Poverty in Ohio" report earlier this year.

    Now a job paying the $5.15 minimum wage leaves the typical Ohio family at only 70 percent of the poverty level, the association said.

    One reason the federal poverty rate has been relatively static in recent years is a growing phenomenon of ‘‘income inequality," say many liberal economists and researchers.

    In other words, the rich got richer and the poor stayed poor.

    The real average, after-tax income of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans increased by $576,000, or 201 percent, during the 1980s and 1990s, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal Washington think-tank that analyzed Congressional Budget Office figures. However, the average earnings of middle-income Americans increased just $5,500 during that period, or 15.1 percent.

    That’s not news for thousands of residents of Athens County, about 65 miles southeast of Columbus.

    Despite the loss of hundreds of higher-paying manufacturing jobs, the county unemployment rate is 4.9 percent, among the lowest in Ohio and below the state average of 5.8 percent.

    Yet the county has one of the highest poverty rates in the state — 27.4 percent, compared to a state average of 10.6 percent.

    Jack Frech, director of the Athens County Department of Job and Family Services, said jobs that paid $30,000 or more have been lost, replaced primarily by service-industry jobs paying minimum wage or a bit more.

    ‘‘We have a Staples down here and a Lowes," he added. ‘‘And we have a couple thousand people a day driving over here from Meigs County for minimumwage jobs."

    A report last fall by the U.S. Conference of Mayors said the nationwide trend is for the economy to recoup job losses, but most will be in the service industry, where the average pay is $14,700, often with no benefits.

    Southeast of Coolville in Hockingport, the Barringers’ back yard might appear to an outsider as a sea of junk — beer and soda cars, pieces of jagged metal, seats from a school bus, motor parts.

    But Brian sees dollar signs.

    He knows the going price for a pound of scrap metal ($1 for copper, 45 cents for aluminum, and 35 cents for brass). He knows that if he fills a junk car with scrap metal, he can get $60 a ton for it at the metal crusher.

    ‘‘Sixty dollars is a lot of groceries," he said with a shrug.

    Up to 20 percent of the family’s income comes from recycling scrap metal.

    Despite steady employment, the Barringers say they aren’t any better off than they were 12 years ago when they moved into their three-bedroom trailer perched on a hill overlooking a pond in Hockingport. Melissa fondly calls the land in the backwaters of the Ohio River ‘‘the home place" because it has been in her family for generations.

    Like her husband, Melissa tries hard to stretch their dollars. She’s learned to fill the milk jug with powdered milk and water when it’s half empty to make it last longer, and often takes from her own plate when one of the boys asks for seconds. She also keeps hens for fresh eggs.

    ‘‘We just make it with what we have," she said. ‘‘We’ll pay one bill and let another one go."

    The Barringers love the home place — a common feeling in Appalachia — and have no plans to move the city. The money might be better, but the people, traffic and noise crowd out the comforting sounds of the country.

    ‘‘Sometimes, you can hear the train rumbling on the West Virginia side," Brian said wistfully, ‘‘and you can hear the tow boats on the river just as plain as day."

    Dispatch reporter Jonathan Riskind contributed to this story.

    [email protected]; [email protected]

    Wednesday, June 9, 2004

    Extended family strains budget

    Wednesday, June 09, 2004, Catherine Candisky and Alan Johnson, THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH



    TOP: Nancy Anderson unloads canned goods, powdered milk, apples, cereal and other groceries she received from a Logan food pantry which served more than 1,100 people that day. ABOVE: From left, Justin and Amber Hopkins and Nicole Thompson moved in with their grandmother, Nancy Anderson, shortly after their parents were killed.


    To feed herself and two grandchildren, Nancy Anderson relies on a food pantry and stretches her dollars by shopping at a discount grocery.

    LANCASTER, Ohio — Nancy Anderson paced in front of the meat cases a dozen times, mentally counting her limited food-stamp rations and desperately seeking a bargain.

    ‘‘Ninety-eight cents a pound?" she moaned, studying a package of chicken legs and thighs. ‘‘Last month, I got it on sale for half that!"

    Anderson put aside the chicken, picked up three family-size packs of ground beef and placed them in her shopping cart at Festival Foods. She punched the price into her calculator, carefully tracking each penny.

    ‘‘Twelve bucks right there," she said, shaking her head. ‘‘That’s why I don’t buy a lot of meat."

    There is no room for error when your food budget is $246.48 a month — no comfort zone for luxuries or emergencies for a 60- year-old, unemployed, divorced woman raising two teen-age grandchildren.

    Anderson, who lives a county south in Logan, didn’t plan to support her grandchildren. Few grandparents do.

    But in Ohio and across the nation, some family members are being forced to move in together to survive.

    For example, children living in grandparent-headed households increased 29.7 percent nationally — 13.8 percent in Ohio — between 1990 and 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

    The late-in-life responsibility often comes unexpectedly, such as when a parent dies, becomes chronically ill or goes to prison, or in the aftermath of a divorce when neither parent is willing or able to care for the children.

    While grandparents are usually glad to help support their grandchildren, it’s often more of a burden than they expect, said Joan W. Lawrence, director of the Ohio Department of Aging. ‘‘It’s a lot more stressful," she said.

    Nearly one in five grandparent-headed households lived below the federal poverty line in 1999, while about one in seven families overall was in poverty, census figures show.

    ‘‘Most of the grandparents retired based on taking care of themselves and not thinking they were going to have to raise children again," said Dionne Henderson, program director for the Grandparent/Grandchildren Initiative of the Center for Healthy Communities at Wright State University.

    Anderson’s grandchildren moved in shortly after her son and daughter-in-law died 7½ years ago. She never needed help with food until recently.

    So she found herself on a chilly April morning waiting in her red 1991 Chevy Tahoe in a line of vehicles that began forming before 7:30 a.m. outside Logan in Hocking County.

    A crew of 35 volunteers at the Smith Chapel United Methodist Church food pantry, many of them older folks, quickly loaded up trucks, cars, vans and pickup trucks in a double line.

    More than 27,540 pounds of food was distributed on this day, enough to feed 1,147 people.

    Once a busy industrial center, Logan has fallen on hard times, as has much of Appalachian Ohio. Goodyear and four other major employers left the community in recent years.

    Dannie Devol, a retired businessman who helps run the pantry, flipped through a stack of new applicants for food assistance, wondering aloud how some of them make it. ‘‘It’s sad."

    Anderson has cared for her grandchildren much of the time since her son, Marty L. Hopkins, and his long-time girlfriend, Tina M. Davis, died Nov. 24, 1997, when they apparently leaped from an Amtrak train in Omaha, Neb. Autopsies showed the Logan couple had methamphetamines, marijuana and perscription drugs in their blood.

    Life is a daily struggle for Anderson since being laid off from her $8-an-hour job at Cyril-Scott, a Lancaster printing company.

    With her unemployment expired, Anderson and the two grandchildren who still live with her — Amber, 16, and Justin, 14, (Nicole, 18, has moved to town) — get by on $972 a month in death benefits the two youngest children receive from their father’s estate, plus food stamps and help from the pantry.

    It goes quickly.

    Rent for her two-bedroom basement apartment outside Logan is $500. Electricity burns $133 to $188 monthly, the phone bill is $53, satellite TV runs $70 and truck insurance costs $35.

    On the fifth of each month, Anderson drives 20 miles to Lancaster, stopping first at the Logan County Department of Job and Family Services where her food-stamp allotment is loaded into a debit card.

    Mindful of each penny, she has a two-stop shopping plan designed to leave her with $40-$50 for milk, bread and other incidentals the rest of the month.

    At Aldi, a discount grocery, Anderson spent $69.86 for offbrand canned and dry goods.

    Then she went to Festival Foods for produce, meat and the few brand-name luxuries — Folgers coffee and Miracle Whip for herself, Jif peanut butter and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese for her grandchildren.

    Anderson allowed herself one impulse buy — a can of Kool-Aid, enough to make eight quarts, on sale for $1.37.

    After paying the $133.89 bill, she was left with $42.73 in food stamps for the rest of the month.

    How does she keep going?

    ‘‘Him," Anderson said, pointing a trembling finger at a photo of her son. ‘‘I know that’s what he would want me to do. Every day I think about him.

    ‘‘We’ve had some tough times, but we manage to get through somehow."

    She’s been without an oven for more than a year, her clothes washer is about to break down, and the truck needs repairs.

    But if and when she has the money, Anderson won’t fix any of them. She wants to buy a headstone for her son’s grave. She saw one on sale recently in a newspaper ad — $399, marked down from $1,299.

    Dispatch reporter Jonathan Riskind contributed to this story.

    [email protected], [email protected]

    Thursday, June 10, 2004

    When jobs vanish, fear consumes one’s days

    Thursday, June 10, 2004, Alan Johnson , Jonathan Riskind and Catherine Candisky, THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH


    Erwin L. Reuss Jr. frequently helps his daughter, Megan, with homework. Looking back, he says he wishes he’d gone to college instead of going to work at $17 an hour as a welder, a job that later disappeared.

    Amanda Fowler


    SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — Eager to start her life, Amanda Fowler got a job when she was 15.

    She went to college, worked hard and dreamed of a bright future.

    But less than a decade later, Fowler is unemployed, pregnant, scared and disillusioned. She and her husband are without a permanent home. He is working without benefits at Taco Bell after losing his job as a tool-anddie maker.

    Now 24, Fowler wonders if she will have a place to live when her baby, a girl to be named Morgan, is born next month.

    ‘‘Everything I own is in a plastic box," she said, wiping away a tear. ‘‘It feels like I’ve worked for nothing.’ "

    They lived awhile with her parents and then his.

    But the bottom has fallen out of one of those safety nets: Her father is seriously ill and must sell the family farm in South Vienna where she grew up, along with his farm equipment and household goods — including her grandmother’s Depression-era dinnerware.

    Experts say Fowler represents a large number of Ohioans seeking work in a sputtering economy. Despite a modest statewide unemployment rate, good-paying jobs with benefits remain scarce in many parts of the state.

    While the country lost 1.5 percent of its jobs between 2000 and 2003, Ohio saw 4.3 percent — 233,488 jobs — disappear, according to an Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies report, the ‘‘State of Poverty in Ohio 2004."

    In these uncertain economic times, the political buzz words of the 2004 presidential campaign — outsourced, downsized and underemployed — apply to people like Fowler.

    President Bush has touted recent gains in the number of people employed nationwide — a 248,000 jolt upward in May following increases of 346,000 in April and 353,000 in March — as evidence that the economy is rebounding.

    Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, counters that recent job gains are outweighed by a total loss of 1.9 million private-sector jobs — and a net loss of more than 1 million — since Bush took office in 2001.

    Regardless of the contentious political debate, George Zeller is convinced that Ohio’s economy began foundering long before the recession of 2001.

    Zeller, senior researcher at the Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland, said that since mid-1996, Ohio’s job growth has been slower than in other states.

    ‘‘We went into the recession earlier than the rest of the country, and we’re still losing jobs more than the rest of the country. The economic growth of Ohio has been sub-par — and not just during the recession, but during the last eight years continuously."

    Among the 42,800 Ohioans who exhausted their unemployment benefits between December 2003 and April 2004 was Erwin L. Reuss Jr., 59, of Springfield.

    Like Fowler, Reuss’ dream became a nightmare when he was downsized from two jobs and was unable to pay his rent. He is living on the edge.

    ‘‘It seems like the first thing on my mind in the morning is bills, and the last thing on my mind at night is bills," Reuss said. ‘‘It doesn’t go away. It’s hell."

    In March, 345,000 jobless workers across the country used up the last of their unemployment benefits, a singlemonth record, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal Washington research group.

    But Tim Kane of the conservative Heritage Foundation contends there’s nothing inherently wrong with the economy. He said the current unemployment rate, hovering around 5.7 percent, is below the average rate of the past three decades.

    ‘‘The labor force is growing, not shrinking," wrote Kane and Paul Kersey of the Heritage Foundation last month. ‘‘The idea of a shrinking or discouraged work force is a myth. . . . One million people joined the labor force in 2003, and total employment increased by a net 1.34 million workers during that same period, which means that the ranks of the unemployed declined by 340,000."

    From appearances, Reuss is doing reasonably well. He has a van and a boat. And there is a big-screen television in the living room of the comfortable Springfield house he shares with his 12-year-old daughter, Megan.

    But after working his entire adult life, Reuss finds himself in a financial hole. In April, he turned to Catholic Social Services of Clark, Champaign and Logan Counties for help and received $200 toward his rent and other expenses.

    In the seven months since he was laid off as a maintenance man at a Springfield nursing home, Reuss has lost 30 pounds and begun taking antidepressants. His previous job disappeared when Darby Creek Ag Enterprises of Milford Center moved its animalfeed plant out of town.

    ‘‘I feel useless and worthless. I’m 59 years old, and nobody wants to hire me."

    He receives $259 a month in food stamps and has a government medical card for health care and prescriptions. He pays $375 a month in rent, $80 for natural-gas service and $40 for electricity.

    After submitting resumes to about 50 businesses, a Springfield transportation company offered him a job as a driver for a passenger service. He is in the process of completing requirements for that position.

    In nearby South Vienna, Fowler’s father, Jerry, worked all his life, getting up at 3 a.m. to work the farm while holding down a job as a maintenance man at a school.

    Amanda Fowler earned an associate’s degree after high school and landed a job caring for the mentally retarded and developmentally disabled, bringing home $583 every two weeks.

    She married Karl Randolph, 30, a family friend since high school.

    Randolph was working at St. Mary’s Tool & Die in Troy, earning $12.75 an hour, but he was laid off because of cutbacks at the factory.

    Then, given the rigorous nature of her job, Fowler was placed on leave because of her pregnancy. She said she couldn’t find work despite applying at 30 places, including fast-food restaurants.

    The couple had to sell their house, store their belongings in a friend’s garage and shuttle between their parents’ homes.

    Randolph eventually landed a job on the late-night shift at Taco Bell, earning $6.50 an hour with no benefits.

    Fowler, meanwhile, was growing desperate with a baby on the way and no income or insurance.

    She reluctantly came to a Springfield food pantry for help. Fowler also obtained welfare benefits, health care for her and the baby, $114 a month in food stamps and a $25 monthly stipend for gas. In return, she must work 27 hours a month at Catholic Social Services under Ohio’s welfare-towork initiative.

    ‘‘If it’s not for medication or keeping the lights on, we don’t get it. I probably have 50 cents to my name right now."

    Fowler’s dreams these days are simple.

    ‘‘I hope I open my drawer and find my own clothes."

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    Friday, June 11, 2004

    Getting off welfare no guarantee of success

    Friday, June 11, 2004, Catherine Candisky and Alan Johnson, THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH



    Mary Meade handles groceries for needy families at the Living Word Church food pantry in Junction City. Meade also relies on the food pantry.

    NEW LEXINGTON, Ohio — Nine years ago, Mary Meade left the welfare rolls to work as an aide at a group home for mentally disabled adults.

    She’s had the same job since, but steady work has not brought selfsufficiency — the stated goal of welfare reform — to the 38-year-old mother of three teens.

    At $7.68 an hour, Meade’s annual salary is about $16,000 — $2,850 less than the federal poverty rate for a family of four.

    "We don’t have Internet, we don’t have cable and we traded our home phone for a cell phone because it was cheaper," Meade said as she rocked her month-old grandson at the Living Word Church’s food pantry in nearby Junction City.

    She is a month behind on her mobile-home payment, and her water was shut off last month because she didn’t pay the bill. Broken windows and a sinking bathroom floor have gone unrepaired for months in their Perry County home.

    "I need to make sure I pay the electric bill this month, because I didn’t pay it last," said Meade, a high-school graduate who completed two semesters at Hocking College in Nelsonville. "I rob Peter to pay Paul. Really."

    Chuck Drake, a church member who oversees the pantry, said it has outgrown the dilapidated building on Rt. 37 where it started in 1997. Now serving about 350 families a month, the group has applied for a grant to help with a $275,000 expansion.

    "The need is definitely growing," Drake said. "We take care of a lot of people who are working but not quite making it, and often they have to make a choice between paying utilities or buying food, paying for medications or buying food."

    Like Meade, many have traded in their monthly cash-assistance check for a paycheck. While welfare rolls have dropped to their lowest levels in more than three decades, many former recipients remain poor.

    "People are getting off welfare but not out of poverty," said Shawn Fremstad, deputy director of welfare-reform policy for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington.

    "It’s not like everybody moves off (welfare), gets a stable job and is set to go."

    In contrast, Robert Rector, a Heritage Foundation senior research fellow in Washington, D.C., said in a recent analysis that the welfare overhaul has "made remarkable headway in helping welfare dependents to move toward self-sufficiency. It dramatically reduced the caseload of dependents, reduced child poverty and increased employment among single mothers."

    In fact, former recipients working even minimum-wage jobs are better off than they were when they received a monthly welfare check — benefits that amounted to less than a third of the federal poverty level.

    "What we should be talking about is getting people on career paths," said Joel Potts, a senior policy analyst for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. "That’s the bigger debate."

    With a high-school diploma and limited skills, Meade and others like her are still struggling in low-wage jobs. The economic downturn of the past few years has made things worse.

    Many are turning to food pantries and other charities for help with rent and medical bills.

    "When you look at gasoline prices, and even the price of milk, everything keeps going up," Meade said.

    She started coming to Living Word’s pantry about five years ago when she was off work with a ruptured disk.

    Uneasy about the handout, Meade and her younger two children, Amanda, 15, and Steven, 17, started working at the pantry, stocking shelves and carrying boxes of groceries to the steady stream of vehicles that moves through the line.

    An hour before the pantry opened on a hazy Saturday morning last month, more than 50 vehicles were lined up. Another 20 joined the queue by the time the pantry opened at 9.

    Inside one of three buildings used by the pantry, volunteers registered people new to the food line under a banner reading, "Jesus said feed my sheep." On the table was taped another message urging people to "Tell Gov. (Bob) Taft don’t cut health care."

    Meade and her children helped fill boxes with eggs, potatoes, cereal, frozen pizzas and canned foods before loading food into their own car.

    "They like volunteering," she said. "I want them to see that there are people worse off than them."

    Meade stretches her paycheck to pay as many bills as possible, while relying on $83 a month in food stamps and the pantry to feed her family. By the end of the month, her refrigerator is empty, the cupboards bare.

    "I usually have milk at the beginning of the month, but by the end of the month, sometimes the kids have to eat their cereal with water," she said. "They put a lot of sugar on it."

    Meade’s husband, Ben, is forced to live in a camper parked beside her mobile home. When the couple separated a few years back, Meade took him off her health insurance. They reunited, but a pre-existing ailment — he’s had three heart attacks and is on dialysis — prevents her from putting him back on her insurance policy.

    Because of government red tape, the only way he could get health insurance is for the couple to live apart — even if it’s only 25 feet.

    Meade said a caseworker told them it didn’t matter that they are still married: He has to maintain a separate address to qualify for Medicaid, the state-federal health-care program, because she earns too much.

    Her 54-year-old husband worked 15 years at a funeral home but said his employer never paid his Social Security or workers’ compensation, and he has no retirement.

    But Mary Meade doesn’t care to dwell on the negative. She knows she might never earn a livable wage but says she’s luckier than many of her friends and neighbors. She has high hopes for her own children.

    "I want my kids to go to college," she said. "I want them to get an education."

    Dispatch reporter Jonathan Riskind contributed to this story.

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    Saturday, June 12, 2004

    Caring couple keep giving despite their troubles

    Saturday, June 12, 2004, Catherine Candisky and Alan Johnson, THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

    Tariq Stevens and his wife, Naimah Ali-Stevens, of the East Side, cheer on the Little Sister Drummers, a musical-dance group of youths from their neighborhood, at the Columbus Culture Fest at City Hall last month.


    Naimah Ali-Stevens and her husband set up a tent in their back yard to hold the clothing that they donate to the needy.


    A giver most of her life, Naimah Ali-Stevens found it difficult to be a taker even when she needed it most. Out of work as a caregiver for the disabled while her husband, Tariq Stevens, recovered from emergency quadruple-bypass surgery, Naimah watched fearfully as medical bills reached $175,000 last year. Finally, the Columbus couple filed for bankruptcy. In the blink of an eye, the helpers needed help. To put food on the table, they’ve been among the hundreds who line up each week at the Lutheran Social Services food pantry at Champion and Frebis avenues on the South Side. The largest pantry in Franklin County, it serves mostly working poor and others who have languished for months on unemployment rolls. Naimah and Tariq’s story could end there. But it doesn’t. Instead of succumbing to despair after working all their lives, Naimah, 62, and Tariq, 63, continue their brand of home-grown charity. Although they aren’t sure where next month’s mortgage payment is coming from, they continue giving clothes to the needy from tents erected in the back yard of their East Side home. They also volunteer time with neighborhood youths, including a group called Little Sister Drummers.

    Sharon Daly, vice president of social policy for the Washingtonbased Catholic Charities USA, said that as food lines grow, so does the number of donors and volunteers finding themselves in the same situation as those they’ve tried to help.

    ‘‘Among that group that are normally able to provide for themselves but have been unemployed for a long time, we find many former donors and volunteers who are just humiliated to have to come in and beg for help," Daly said.

    Tariq and Naimah don’t fret.

    ‘‘You just roll with it if you’ve got faith," Naimah said. ‘‘The Lord got me this far. Where it’s going to end, I do not know."

    ‘‘We stopped worrying about it a long time ago," her husband chimed in. ‘‘When we’ve needed something, it’s showed up."

    Many Americans have become overwhelmed with debt in recent years.

    Personal bankruptcies have been mounting for a decade, breaking the 1 million mark in 1996 and rising to a calendaryear record of more than 1.6 million in 2003, according to figures kept by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

    The economic boom of the late 1990s briefly interrupted the trend, with the number of filings falling between 1998 and 2000.

    Roger Whelan, a resident scholar at the American Bankruptcy Institute and a former U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge, said he expects the number of personal bankruptcies to surpass 1.7 million this year, despite an economy that is apparently strengthening.

    High and unexpected healthcare costs can hammer a family such as the Stevens’, which is already facing financial problems. A study by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured showed that families living at 200 percent or less of the poverty level must spend a greater percentage of their income on health care and other basic needs.

    Similarly, job losses — and with them, full-time benefits — contributed to the rising number of uninsured Americans. The ranks of the uninsured grew to 43.6 million in 2002, an increase of 2.4 million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

    Even though both worked, the Stevenses had no health insurance. Tariq receives limited benefits as a veteran, and Naimah has sought care from the East Central Health Center, which is funded with tax dollars but privately operated and charges based on a patient’s ability to pay.

    Neither is in good health. Both suffer from diabetes and high blood pressure. Naimah, a former smoker, was receiving free blood-pressure medication through a smoking-cessation program, but funds that came from Ohio’s tobacco settlement ran out in March, and the program was discontinued.

    Heart disease and a stroke he suffered late last year robbed Tariq of his sight in one eye, rendering him unable to sew his Tariq Kufi, the African-style hats he made and sold to earn a living.

    Naimah recently resumed working as a licensed caregiver under contract with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

    More than ever, the couple seem to draw strength from their continued efforts to help others.

    They met in 1987 when Tariq was at the Orient Correctional Institution doing a four-year term for his stint as an ‘‘industrial burglar" who broke into businesses after hours. Naimah worked with a church group providing special food items for Islamic inmates.

    There were stops and starts, but the couple wed — first in a prison ceremony in 1989 and last year in a civil ceremony as Tariq faced life-threatening health problems.

    Tariq doesn’t dwell on the hard times but said the sputtering economy has hit hard in his inner-city neighborhood.

    ‘‘There was a time when everyone I knew had a good job, and a lot of them paid well," Tariq said. ‘‘Now nobody has a job. They’re just standing around."

    Naimah, whose name means ‘‘paradise" in Arabic, says she dreams of opening a home for children with handicaps and developmental disabilities. Over the years, the couple have taken in many children, as foster parents.

    As Naimah was sorting through the racks of clothes under a tent behind her house, a young neighborhood woman walked into the back yard. She hesitated and, when Naimah noticed her, apologized for intruding and turned to leave.

    But Naimah put an arm around her and guided her into the tent, showing her an assortment of dresses, suits and other used clothing. As the woman began looking through the clothes, Naimah smiled. ‘‘Take your time," she told her. ‘‘Take whatever you want." The woman left with a bag of clothes. ‘‘There’s more to this than the clothes," Naimah said. ‘‘There’s hope."

    Dispatch reporter Jonathan Riskind contributed to this story.

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    Food pantry volunteers ‘called to serve’

    Saturday, June 12, 2004, Catherine Candisky and Alan Johnson, THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH


    ‘‘I’ve been known to go door to door with my kids and a wagon for a food drive." LISA ROBERTS who helps run the Friends and Neighbors Community Choice Center in Coolville on a $200-amonth budget

    Barbara J. Packer gave up a corporate career to follow her calling to help the needy at pantries run by Lutheran Social Services in Columbus.

    Hazel Life earns minimum wage as a store cashier but her passion is working free, caring for the people of her hometown.


    Many people pray for good health and good fortune. Barbara J. Packer prays for cereal.

    When the Lutheran Social Services food pantry she manages ran out of cereal last year, she got on her knees and asked God for the breakfast food popular with kids at Franklin County’s largest food pantry.

    At 8 a.m. the next day, the phone rang in the building at Champion and Frebis avenues on Columbus’ South Side. A transportation company had a truckload of misdirected merchandise that couldn’t be delivered to its destination.

    Could the pantry use some cereal?

    ‘‘He said, ‘The only catch is you need to take it off the truck within 48 hours,’ and I said, ‘No problem,’ " she recalled.

    Packer, 54, former general manager of the Sears store in upscale Tuttle Mall, grew tired of the corporate world after 36 years. Now she is one of many who find great reward serving Ohio’s growing legion of needy families.

    Some, like Packer, are paid staff members. Most are volunteers.

    ‘‘This is the best job I’ve ever had," she said. ‘‘It’s not really a job; it’s a calling."

    Her peers around Ohio include a high-school dropout denied food from a pantry when she was young, a wealthy older couple trying to give something back to their community, and a middle-age man inspired when his aging parents found themselves in need.

    Hazel Life, 37, and Lisa Roberts, 40, are small-town dynamos with big-time hearts who run the Friends and Neighbors Community Choice Center housed in the Coolville Lions Club. Neither is paid.

    The Athens County center is a family of families. Everyone is greeted with a hug, and no one is turned away if there is food on the shelves.

    The needy gather for a free lunch on Wednesday — spaghetti, salad and bread sticks during a recent visit. They also can visit the food pantry, select clothing from a free supply, see a volunteer nurse or seek home-repair help.

    The center runs on $200 a month, which comes from private donations and a credit from a regional food bank.

    ‘‘I’ve been known to go door to door with my kids and a wagon for a food drive," Roberts said.

    Her husband recently was laid off from his $15-an-hour machinist job at O’Ames True Temper, a Parkersburg, W.Va., manufacturer of garden tools.

    Roberts is motivated by the time years ago when she was turned away from a food pantry as a young mother. That gives her an ‘‘enormous responsibility. Now that we’re here, people depend on us."

    Life, a single mother of three, has faced her own challenges.

    Five years ago, she was laid off from a $19-an-hour job as a systems analyst at a Columbus hospital, and now she works as a cashier in a Coolville convenience store for the minimum wage, $5.15.

    Still, she often dips into her purse to help Coolville’s needy.

    ‘‘I grew up poor," she said. ‘‘These people are my friends."

    In Logan, Dannie Devol, 78, and his wife, Jane, 70, don’t have to work. They own profitable chalets in the Hocking Hills.

    But four years ago, they began a running a small pantry out of their home, giving out food and clothing. It grew quickly, and they secured a nearby building that now serves up to 1,500 people a month.

    ‘‘It’s a free country, and it’s been good to us," Devol said about volunteering. ‘‘We pay back to the community."

    In Junction City, Chuck Drake dreams of a proposed $275,000 drivethrough to ease the back-breaking task of distributing thousands of pounds of food twice monthly to 500 hungry families in Perry, Hocking and Fairfield counties.

    The pantry managed by Drake and operated by the Living Word Church outside Junction City is housed in three buildings. Food must be moved at least four times before it is loaded by volunteers into battered cars and pickup trucks. Drake was inspired to volunteer because of the plight of his parents, retirees struggling to get by after working all their lives. They, too, come to the pantry. ‘‘These people are good people. A lot of them have fallen in a bad situation and don’t know how to get out of it."

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    Hunger in Ohio; More people need help getting enough to eat in fast-changing economy

    Thursday, June 17, 2004, Editorial, The Columbus Dispatch

    Good-paying jobs are dwindling, and lines at food pantries are getting longer.

    That is the nutshell version of last week’s seven-day Dispatch series, "Lines of Despair," which gave an unprecedented in-depth view of why, in a land of plenty, so many Ohioans are asking for food handouts.

    The figures are indisputable: More than 150,000 people per week seek free food; the number has increased three consecutive years; the 4 percent increase in food available at pantries in this year’s first quarter pales in comparison with the 44 percent increase in need.

    The suggestion by Eric Bost, U.S. Agriculture Department undersecretary for food and nutrition service, that such people are taking the easy way out is ludicrous. Proving the need for handouts and standing in line to get boxes of macaroni and cheese and cans of soup do not lure people trying to game the government.

    People come to food pantries for good reasons: They’re hungry, their children are hungry and their resources aren’t up to the challenge of a global marketplace that is changing not only the face of employment in Ohio and the nation but the face of hunger.

    Nobody can predict the outcome of the economic changes sweeping this land any more than people at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution could predict that robots someday would be welding cars.

    Meantime, fewer safety nets are available to catch people pushed over the edge. Federal and state cutbacks have taken already thin programs to help the needy down to the bone, and many aid programs have disappeared. Food banks, churches and other faith-based organizations are barely keeping up.

    Volunteers at pantries and professionals in food-aid circles, who have been witnessing a change in the face of hunger, believe the worst is yet to come. Their fears are well-founded because people once believed to be at low risk of needing help are among those swelling the food lines.

    "These are people who played by the rules," said Lisa Hamler-Podolski of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks. "They had jobs and paid their taxes and their bills on time."

    She cites the severe decline in bluecollar jobs that paid $15 to $20 an hour in Ohio as a major reason for an upsurge in such people needing food. Meantime, low-wage service-industry jobs are increasing, but many of those workers, though they qualify for and use food stamps, may need to visit the pantries as prices rise. White-collar workers, too, are not immune. Middlemanagers, technicians and even corporate officers who have been laid off because of downsizing and restructuring discover few comparable jobs are to be had.

    Hamler-Podolski said these "new poor" do not suddenly end up in food lines; they go through several stages of personal downsizing that might include depletion of savings, cashing out 401(k)s, taking second mortgages, maxing out credit cards and seeking help from friends and family. As the sea of debt rises and options run out, a once-unthinkable plight becomes the reality of standing in a food line and having to divulge personal information to prove need.

    Always included in those lines are the disabled, the chronically unemployed and the working poor, many of whom have gotten off welfare but don’t earn enough money to feed their families, even with the aid of food stamps.

    Dispatch reporters saw many of the faces of hunger: senior citizens raising grandchildren; divorced, widowed and separated adults of many ages; the chronically ill; and low-skilled, poorly educated people.

    Perhaps most revealing is that food pantries are beginning to serve families of Reserve and National Guard troops who are on extended duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are among the 42 percent of families served by food banks while still employed.

    The General Assembly has recognized the crisis and approved funding to help secure food for pantries, yet inventories are critically low. Congress, which has a fat-laden farm-aid bill to its credit, has yet to do anything meaningful about hunger, and Bost’s imprudent "easy-way-out" remark indicates a mind-set in the administration that will have to be changed.

    Pantries increasingly rely on donations from private groups, companies and individuals.

    Those who remain skeptical only need to visit a pantry or, better yet, volunteer at one. The lines of despair are real. The need is for more people in this land of plenty to step forward with time, food and money.

    Outpouring of kindness follows look at poverty

    Published: Sunday, June 27, 2004, By Alan Johnson and Catherine Candisky, The Columbus Dispatch

    From ice cream and baby clothes to a tombstone and more than $14,000 in cash, offers of help for needy Ohioans featured in "Lines of Despair'' -- a Dispatch series about the new poverty -- poured in from as far away as California.

    "It was a godsend,'' said Hazel Life, after receiving $2,500 from a Delaware, Ohio, donor for the Friends and Family Community Choice Center she helps run in rural Coolville in Athens County.

    "It's going to enable us to feed people at least until November or December.''

    The series, published June 6-12, documented a new kind of poverty triggered by a soft, changing economy and reflected in the sharply rising demand at food pantries statewide. There was a 44 percent jump from the end of 2003 to the first three months of this year, according to the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks, representing 3,000 sites statewide.

    Many people opened their hearts and wallets to individuals featured in the weeklong series.

    Donors offered stoves and a washing machine for Nancy Anderson, 60, a Logan woman raising her grandchildren who had been without a stove for a year and has had trouble with her washer. An anonymous donor from Fairfield County gave $400 to pay for a tombstone that Anderson vowed for seven years to place on the Nelsonville grave of her son, Marty L. Hopkins, and his girlfriend, Tina M. Davis. The couple were killed Nov. 24, 1997, when they leaped from a train in Omaha, Neb.

    When she received the call about the tombstone donation, Anderson was out mowing a yard "trying to make a little bit of money,'' she said.

    "I put my hand to the wall and took a deep breath,'' she said. "I can't believe there's somebody out there that doesn't know me that has consideration for my son. I'm so grateful.''

    Holly Nelson, who lives on the Far East Side, said she reads bits of the paper every day to her 3-year-old adopted daughters, Julia and Irena. She read a "real gentle version'' of the Dispatch series, including a story about Mary Meade, a New Lexington mother who sometimes serves her kids cereal with water when she can't afford milk.

    A few days later, Nelson overheard her Russian-born daughters trying to break into their piggybanks.

    "We're giving our money to the lady for milk,'' one of the girls said.

    The Nelsons sent $48.64 to the foodbank association for Meade.

    Several agencies received cash donations, some of them anonymous.

    The Living Word Church pantry in Junction City received $3,000 from a California donor, and the Smith Chapel United Methodist Food Pantry in Logan received $2,500 from Virginia. Employees at Nationwide chipped in $1,000, as did a Grove City donor.

    Pantries reported receiving smaller donations of up to $500.

    In Springfield, Catholic Social Services received a box of baby clothes for Amanda Fowler, 24, an unemployed mother-to-be whose husband lost his factory job and went to work without benefits at Taco Bell.

    The agency also received cash and food donations, Director Vince Chase said.

    Lori Humphrey, director of Westerville Area Resources Ministry, a collaborative charitable effort of 20 churches, reported an outpouring of help for two area single mothers, Angel Buckley and Lisa Shilling, featured in the series.

    Of more than $400 the agency received, Humphrey said some was earmarked for haircuts, clothes, shoes, family portraits and ice cream for the kids. Shilling received a donation to cover the cost of books for a college course she is taking.

    At Lutheran Social Services in Columbus, food pantry Director Barbara Packer said she had received several hundred dollars in donations and many offers of volunteer help.

    "We've had nothing but positive responses.''

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