Guest Column from Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder; Making a Difference in the Fight Against Hunger
Dan Flowers, Akron/Canton Regional Foodbank; Bob Garbo, Hocking, Athens, Perry Community Action Agency; Lisa Hamler-Podolski, Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks; Mike Iberis. Second Harvest Foodbank of the Mahoning Valley; Speaker Larry Householder
Throughout the years we all learn lessons from our families – values and beliefs passed down from generation to generation. For me, one of the most important lessons I learned was from my grandfather– and to this day I try to continue to live in the example he set so long ago.
Sadly, I never knew my Grandpa Householder – he passed on before I was born. But, as is the case in many families, the tales of his life – how he lived, his acts of kindness and his belief in a fair shake for everyone – have helped to shape me into the man that I am today and ring clearly as some of the more important values I want to pass on to my own children.
Grandpa Householder worked as a mail carrier and farmer here in Perry County. He was one of those men who – come snow, rain, sleet or hail – was going to make certain you were getting your mail. In his time on the job he came across all sorts of families – some well off, but more often than not, they were folks who were hit hard financially and trying to stretch each and every nickel. It was the Great Depression era and many families, particularly here in our region, were struggling to make ends meet, putting a roof over their heads and food on their plates.
It was that last part – putting food on their plates – that my grandpa wanted to help with the most. Along with delivering the mail he would from time to time leave other packages, many of them filled to the brim with food: home-grown vegetables, fresh eggs and milk from the farm. Some folks would greet him with open arms, openly thanking him for the food and his kindness. Others, whether out of pride or embarrassment, found it more difficult to accept these packages. And grandpa understood. He knew the importance of providing for a family. So grandpa went about making deliveries to these families in secret. Packages of food would mysteriously appear on the front step, and in an unspoken understanding, everyone knew who was leaving them, and why.
Throughout my life I have worked to follow in these footsteps. As a youngster growing up near Junction City, I saw first-hand the reality of hunger and poverty here in our region of Ohio and across the state. And as an adult, I’ve worked to make a difference – as a county commissioner, chairman of the Tri-County Community Action Agency, a state representative and, today, as speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives.
It’s so hard to understand that in this day and age, with Ohio as one of the nation’s top agricultural producers, how we continue to have children and families in our own communities go hungry. That’s one of the reasons that as a county commissioner I worked with folks to get the foodbank in Logan up and running.
Tens of thousands of people across Ohio seek help each and every day. In fact, in 2002 alone more than 1.9 million households in Ohio were served by food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and community centers. Of that number, nearly half of those served were children.
Many of those children rely on trips to the food pantry, or the reduced and free lunches offered at school, for proper nutrition. Yet, as summer comes and school lets out, the hundreds of kids who usually get a balanced meal at school will go without. Hunger doesn’t take a summer vacation – it impacts the lives around us 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And these children know that when summer break comes along, they and their families will have to search elsewhere for a nutritious meal.
Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that children right here in Ohio are going without food. We’re a strong agriculture state that has historically provided food for families across the nation and around the world. Yet still there are hungry mouths to feed in our own backyards. One of the ways Ohio farmers have been helping in the fight against hunger is through the Ohio Agricultural Clearance Program Project (OACP).
This project is a market clearing initiative, which has built a strong alliance between Ohio's agricultural producers, growers, and processors to provide fresh and shelf stable nutritious foods for distribution to low-income Ohioans. During 2000/2001 alone over 6.2 million pounds of eggs, fresh apples, potatoes, apple butter, apple cider and other fresh produce were made available to food pantries, soup kitchens, and other charitable food assistance programs through the OACP. I commend those involved in this program for the work they are doing to help those less fortunate in our communities, particularly during the recent tough times when the demand for food outweighs the supply available.
This increased demand, when coupled with the recent economic downturns experienced all across the nation, puts added strain on our foodbanks. Right now Ohio has reached crisis levels – already this year approximately 44 percent of all Ohio foodbanks have been forced to ration the food they give out. The families who once received a five day supply of food each week are now leaving the foodbank with a bag that will only last for three days. What’s more, on more than one occasion foodbanks across the state – including those in Logan and in the Mahoning Valley – have completely run out of food and have had to close their doors to the very people they are there to help.
As your state representative, and speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, I have raised these issues with my colleagues on more than one occasion. Here in the Ohio House, we have worked to increase funding for vital initiatives that offer emergency food and necessities to those in need, providing $4.5 million in each of the next two years for hunger related programs and services. And while we are suffering from a slumping economy, and state budgets across the country are tight, we must continue to make an investment in the fight against hunger.
In my time as speaker, I have also worked to ensure that the partnership between the state of Ohio and the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks is strong and will remain so in the years to come. That partnership is especially appropriate this month as the legislature continues to work on crafting a reasonable and responsible balanced budget plan that protects both taxpayers and Ohio’s most vulnerable citizens. Moreover, it is also appropriate as we observed National Hunger Awareness Day this month. Together – in a public/private partnership – we are working together to spread the message of how hunger hits hard right here at home.
There are so many things that we as a community can do to help. Right now food pantries across Ohio are in need of food donations. Many times donations rise during the winter holidays, but when the weather gets nice folks seem to forget about those in need. If you’re going to donate, consider making it a family effort – have each member of the family choose food items they would like to donate and go to the donation site together, it makes the donation process more personal and it especially helps our children understand the realities of hunger and the importance of giving. Right now our foodbanks and food pantries are in desperate need of the following items:
Pork and Beans
Macaroni and Cheese
If you aren’t able to donate food items, consider making a donation of your time. Volunteers are needed for a variety of jobs including stocking the shelves in the food pantries, put together packets of food at foodbanks, and to serve the hungry at soup kitchens.
For more information on how you can make a difference in the fight against hunger, please contact your local food pantry or foodbank, or call the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks at (614) 221-4336.
Hunger hurts, but together we can help. Consider setting an example for the generations to come. My grandfather did, and I certainly hope that I am doing the same for my sons.