Food pantries, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters constantly struggle to meet the needs of hungry Ohioans and provide the daily necessities which low-income individuals simply can’t afford. One pantry client explains, My kids wouldn’t eat towards the end of the month. There’s nothing I could reduce. I don’t buy clothes; I don’t pay bills. My Food Stamps don’t last. I got laid off on the 29th and just got a new job. It took two weeks to get assistance. There are gaps in the lives of low-income individuals, families, and those who have recently lost employment. There are often gaps in the capacity of food service agencies to provide for their needs. The Ohio Food Program (OFP) and the Ohio Agricultural Clearance Program (OACP) aim is to fill these gaps.
Brief History and Purpose of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks
The Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks (OASHF) is Ohio’s largest charitable response to hunger. The mission of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks is to assist Second Harvest Foodbanks in Ohio in providing food and other resources to people in need and to pursue areas of common interest for the benefit of people in need.
Ohio Foodbanks began in 1985 to develop the federally funded Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) within the state of Ohio. Working in conjunction with the Department of Education and then the Ohio Department of Agriculture and fi nally with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services the Ohio Foodbanks struggled through many years of programmatic development, burdensome federal bureaucratic processes, repeated threats of cuts to the TEFAP food sources, and the constant recognition that even in the best of times, the food was generally in insuffi cient amounts to meet the growing needs of the hungry people in Ohio.
Ohio Foodbanks work collaboratively, growing from a loose knit coalition to a cohesive working group seasoned in the procurement, storage, sharing, and distribution of millions of pounds of food, and managing hundreds of paid and volunteer employees. In 1991 the group incorporated as the 501(c)(3) nonprofi t organization The Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks (OASHF).
Throughout these years, our close work with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has been replicated in other USDA regions.
1997 marked the fi rst year in which OASHF collected dues rests members in order to conduct Association business and was approved to receive first public funding of $105,000 from the State of Ohio to support the storage and distribution costs related to the Ohio Food Purchase Program.
During 1996 OASHF, in close collaboration with the Ohio Food Policy and Anti-Poverty Action Center, worked in the waning moments of the development of the FY98/99 Ohio biennial budget to secure passage of legislation, which would appropriate $3 million for the purchase of 4.5 million pounds of nutritious food products. This successful effort was difficult because Ohio’s budget had moved into the fi nal round of negotiations.
The success of that work laid the foundation for securing continued support in the FY 2000/01 budget for what is now called the Ohio Food Program and the initiation of the Ohio Agricultural Clearance Program. These programs are designed to provide nutritionally adequate shelf stable emergency food supplies to families making the transition from welfare to work and for people who fi nd themselves without suffi cient resources to feed themselves and their families.
Ohio Agricultural Clearance Program
The Ohio Agricultural Clearance Program (OACP) is an innovative collective effort of the Ohio General Assembly, the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services, the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks, member foodbanks, the agricultural community and local food processors. It builds relationships between Ohio’s farm commodity producers, processors, foodbanks, and emergency food providers. It is a collaborative effort with the primary goal of providing fresh produce and processed food products to clients while improving the capacity of member agencies to feed hungry individuals. As a market-clearing initiative, it does not impact the profits of the farm community, but helps both farmers and foodbanks to make use of surplus commodities. Benefits of the program include preventing waste, providing nutritious commodities for foodbanks, and reducing losses for farmers and growers.
OACP was developed through the hard work of the OACP Advisory Committee, including representatives from OASHF, the farm community, commodity groups, Second Harvest Foodbanks in Ohio, hunger relief organizations, governmental programs, and The Ohio State University. Initial legislative efforts netted $1 million to develop this hunger-fighting effort over a two-year period. The Alliance officially began in October of 1999, and despite drought conditions, distributed apples, potatoes, tomatoes, and other fresh produce to foodbanks, food pantries, and soup kitchens across the state.
In the 2003 State Fiscal Year, over 6.9 million pounds of fresh produce and agriculture commodities were distributed to hungry Ohioans through this program. However, the real success of OACP can be seen in the excitement of foodbankers when they receive great produce, and in the satisfaction of clients who receive quality, nutritious products.
What do you do with produce provided by the Ohio Agricultural Clearance Program?
Pickyourown.org offers recipes and simple instructions for Ohio grown produce
(No longer a component of OACP but still a viable program to consider when implementing an agricultural clearance program.) Building the capacity of the emergency food provider system to acquire, store, and distribute food products is an important goal of the Production Alliance. Increased capacity is necessary to handle Production Alliance produce and at the same time improves the quality of services. The purpose of capacity building grants is to increase member agency’s ability to serve by purchasing equipment that enhances and expands their capabilities. Funding for the capacity building component is built into the money received from the state legislature. The capacity building component could be incorporated into a program like the OACP as well. Equipment can range from fax machines and handcarts to refrigerators and freezers.
OACP is a multifaceted program that has grown and developed quickly in its short existence. There have been challenges, successes, discoveries, and visions for the future. Now, it is our hope that other states and organizations will be able to replicate all of our successes, and avoid some of our frustrations.
The three major problems within the OACP program have been: locating funding to administer the program and hire staff, the capacity of smaller foodbanks to handle larger amounts of produce, and the logistical challenge of moving produce from where it is grown to the areas of the state that need it the most. Movement of produce can be cost prohibitive in smaller quantities. Administrative cost issues could be resolved by adding this expense to the legislative budget, and allowing for growth in staff. The problems related to foodbank participation are more complex. Smaller foodbanks often lack transportation and storage capabilities, and may lose out on fresh produce. The capacity building component so far has only reached out to agencies, finding funding to increase the capacities of smaller foodbanks would help to expand the scope of the OACP program. Cooperative efforts and alternative resources may help to overcome this gap.
Overall, the OACP has been extremely successful, and has grown each year. During State Fiscal Year 2003, 7,280,664 million pounds of fresh Ohio produce, including apples, peppers, sweet corn, peaches, potatoes, and Ohio raised protein items, including chicken and eggs, and more were made available to over3,000 local foodbanks, food pantries, soup kitchens, and ultimately, hungry Ohioans. It was also successful in providing freezers, hand carts, dollies, printers and fax machines to expand the capacity of the agencies and make the jobs of food providers easier. James E. Gepperth, Catholic Charities Services, Lorain County, states, The Production Alliance has helped him to give needy families both help and hope, which is the true measure of success for the program.
The future could provide even more support for the emergency and supplemental food assistance network in Ohio. Two avenues are being considered for Production Alliance expansion: additional commodities and working with the Farm Service Administration. Meat, eggs, and poultry products are all expensive and difficult for foodbanks to acquire. Further, markets for products such as pork do fluctuate, and these resources can be used to the benefit of both farmers and foodbankers. This may be the next step for the Production Alliance. Additionally, the Farm Service Agency works with crop disasters, building a relationship with this agency could allow a little good to come out of hail storms or droughts if produce can be salvaged for foodbanks and soup kitchens.
The final way that the OACP can expand and improve is by involving other states and more individuals with the vision of feeding hungry people. We hope this manual can be a first step.
Ohio Food Program
In State Fiscal Year 2003, the $2.5 million provided by the Ohio General Assembly allowed the OFP to purchase and distribute more than 6.9 million pounds of shelf-stable food to low-income children and adults throughout Ohio’s 88 counties to over 3,000 member agencies. This represented over 5.5 million meals that were provided to over 1.9 million households. OFP has further served to facilitate cooperation and combine the efforts of the 12 regional America’s Second Harvest Foodbanks in the state of Ohio.
Dan E. Sveda, Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, explains: The Ohio Food Program has provided a steady supply of nutritious shelf stable product that has helped stock the shelves of our member agencies with more than 530,000 pounds of food valued at more than $190,000. This product, which includes tuna, macaroni and cheese, beef stew, canned vegetables, and fruit has provided a sound base to feed the many hungry families in our area.
The purpose of OFP is to make nutritious shelf stable products available to foodbanks to complement other products acquired through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), donations, and Ohio’s Second Harvest foodbank network. The program began in State Fiscal Year 1998/1999 with a $1.5 million allocation from the Ohio General Assembly. Today, the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS) serves as the contract manager of the program. Through cooperation of ODJFS with OASHF, member foodbanks, and food manufacturers, OFP feeds millions of hungry Ohioans.
The OFP is, at its core, a purchasing program. First, a purchasing committee assesses the wants and needs of the state’s foodbanks, and develops a "shopping list" that is distributed to food companies and vendors. Then, companies bid and contracts are awarded. Finally, food is distributed and the process is repeated every four months.
OFP has become a dynamic resource for the emergency food system in Ohio. In conjunction with OACP it successfully supplements food resources and provides quality products for low-income Ohioans. The Ohio Food Program continues works on improving future services.
Ohio Food Program Future Programming
Foodbanks, soup kitchens, and food pantries continue to catch individuals falling through the gaps in the publicly funded social services safety net. As the impacts of the 1996 Welfare Reform come to light, more and more demands are being placed on the emergency food system. The ultimate success of the food program would be ending to the necessity for it. In the meantime, OFP fills gaps and stomachs in the state of Ohio.
As with many non-profit endeavors, we continually face the challenge of finding funding. Many hours have been and will be spent at the Ohio Statehouse educating and fighting for legislative appropriations. The future of OFP will hopefully include stabilized funding from the State of Ohio.
Another challenge to the OFP is making decisions regarding the wants and needs of different foodbanks. Smaller foodbanks must meet storage and distribution challenges, while large foodbanks must deal with large volumes of product. Balancing the agendas of OASHF’s 12 member foodbanks is an issue that is continually addressed at purchasing committee meetings. Possible solutions include centralized distribution and warehouse space. This would help smaller foodbanks deal with some of the logistical barriers and expand the menu of products available.
Additionally, establishing a cohesive understanding of the purpose of OFP is necessary. Should product be a consistent base of product to build meal packages out of or a means of supplementing TEFAP product? This is an issue that should be addressed by any food program so that foodbanks can effectively acquire sufficient supplies and provide highly nutritious food products.
Future restructuring of the food program allowing funds to be used for both food and personal hygiene products (i.e. shampoo, soap, toothpaste, laundry detergent) is necessary. These products are rare in foodbanks, as well as expensive. The future of this program may also include a processing and packaging collaboration modeled after the efforts of the Second Harvest Foodbanks of Middle Tennessee. Such efforts would allow OASHF to process surplus agricultural products for member foodbanks.
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from the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks.