The Directors of Ohio Foodbanks began in 1985 to develop The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) within the state of Ohio. Working with the Departments of Education, Agriculture and Job and Family Services, Ohio Foodbanks struggled through many years of program development, burdensome federal bureaucratic processes and repeated threats of cuts to the hard earned and much needed TEFAP funding sources. Under TEFAP, commodity foods are made available by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to States. States provide the food to local agencies that they have selected, usually food banks, which in turn, distribute the food to food pantries and congregate feeding sites, such as soup kitchens and shelters that directly serve the public. Yet, even in the best of times, the amount of food available was generally insufficient to meet the needs of the growing numbers of hungry Ohioans, and a formal structure and effort to obtain public dollars to supplement TEFAP needed to be put into place.

To that end, the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks was formed in 1991 and housed at the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, to garner support for its member foodbanks and to stretch dollars through consolidated purchasing of food that is then distributed to Ohio's emergency food assistance network through the twelve regional foodbanks. This program is known as The Ohio Food Purchase Agricultural Clearance Program (OFPACP). It was and still is the life blood of OASHF. Under the direction of Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, who became Executive Director in November, 2001, OASHF's budget has grown from $2,500,000 in its early years to $12,500,000 in SFY 2012. Primary funding for this program comes from the State of Ohio, with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services serving as contract manager. Today, OASHF receives additional support from Foundations, Individuals, United States Department of Agriculture, The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and a host of other Public and Private supporters.

OFPACP is comprised of two separate, but equally important components:  The Ohio Food Purchase Program (OFPP) and the Ohio Agricultural Clearance Program (OACP). Through its two major food programs, OASHF provides nutritious shelf stable food as well as protein-rich items and wholesome produce to its 12 member foodbanks.

  • The Ohio Agricultural Clearance Program was formed in 1999 and is a statewide effort to direct Ohio's surplus and unmarketable agricultural products through the network of foodbanks in Ohio, to ensure that Ohio families have a source of nutritious, Ohio grown, produce food products. Due to the highly perishable nature of these products, food is distributed to the regional foodbanks based on need and the ability to properly store and distribute the fresh fruits and vegetables that are available.
  • The Ohio Food Purchase Program allocates and distributes shelf stable food and protein items to foodbanks based on a formula, known as 'goal factor.'  This formula takes into consideration items such as population, poverty, and unemployment rates in counties served. OASHF has also responded to emergency situations by distributing TANF boxes (named for their source of funding Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). Boxes contained protein items, shelf stable food and hygiene products and have been distributed throughout the state of Ohio to TANF eligible families.

In coordination with the regional Foodbank's agency relations staff, OASHF has encouraged Foodbanks and their pantries to become ‘choice pantries', whereby the pantry setup mirrors that of a grocery store and clients are permitted to choose the items they are taking up to a certain number of pounds. By allowing clients to choose the food they need, pantries have less waste and are better able to meet their clients' needs. This has been an incredible transformation in helping families plan meals and meet their most basic needs. With hunger being only one symptom of poverty, OASHF has expanded outreach and education in areas beyond food.

OASHF recognizes that many people served by the emergency food assistance network, including an alarming and increasing number of seniors, struggle with high prescription drug costs.

Along with its two major food programs, OASHF is home of The Ohio Benefit Bank(TM), a public-private partnership that helps connect low- and moderate-income Ohioans with free tax preparation and access to potential public benefits. The OBB encourages eligible Ohioans to claim tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, and public benefits, such as food stamps, child care subsidies, home energy assistance, children's, health care insurance, and others, by helping them prepare and file applications. Since inception in September 2006, The OBB has grown to more than 1100 sites with over 3,800 trained counselors across Ohio, including at least one site within each of Ohio's 88 counties. In that time, The OBB has connected more than 260,000 Ohioans with tax credits and work supports with the potential value of over $543 million.

The OBB's foundation and origins are in the faith community and began as a project of the National Council of Churches (NCC), the Jewish Council on Public affairs and several other national organizations. NCC chose Ohio as a pilot state for the Benefit Bank and funding was provided to complete software programming needs for tax and benefit submissions. Outreach began in 2006 when Episcopal Community Foundation of Southern Ohio started recruiting counselors and establishing Benefit Bank sites. In late 2006, OASHF became the lead agency implementing the OBB, using its strong network of foodbanks and human power from the AmeriCorps VISTA Program, whose history with OASHF began in 2005 when they helped with the 2005 Hunger Study.

Governor Strickland chose The Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks as the Charity of Choice during his inaugural events, and he learned more about  OBB during the transition period. After his election, upon the recommendation of Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, he created a position within his staff to lead the State of Ohio's support of the OBB. Ralph Gildehaus served as the first Director of The Ohio Benefit Bank, serving in the Governor's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

The Ohio Benefit Bank has received numerous awards, such as:

  • Award of Excellence by the Ohio Association of Nonprofit Organizations
  • Vista Project of the Year for the state of Ohio in 2007
  • One of 10 programs to be featured in the National Community Service's Annual Report
  • Was highlighted in The Columbus Foundation's Annual Report

OBB began with 9 Vista members in 2006 and has grown to 75 members in 2009. Featured in the AmeriCorps*VISTA documents presented to Congress for continued support, it is now included in the Federal Register. The OBB/AmeriCorps* Vista Program has gained national recognition for its positive impact on families living in poverty. In November, 2008 a Direct Service office was opened, serving walk-ins and appointments. In May, 2009, a call center was established, and in April, 2009, a mobile Benefit Bank, complete with satellite and ten work stations was underwritten by The Columbus Foundation and began serving difficult to reach populations.

An Organizational Assessment of The Ohio Benefit Bank was done in 2009, by Ohio University's Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, states that The Ohio Benefit Bank promotes economic empowerment by helping low-and moderate-income Ohioans file their tax returns while simultaneously assessing their eligibility for a range of critical tax credits and work supports they need to be economically secure. In 2007, OBB was invited to join ODJFS at The Ohio State Fair. The OBB Site Locator and QuickCheck were done to refer potentially eligible families to OBB sites located where they live, work play and pray.