September 19, 2005
OHIOANS STRUGGLING UNDER BURDEN OF RISING ENERGY COSTS
Shift in household spending to accommodate increasing gasoline, heating costs from hurricane impact drives families to foodbanks
Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, Executive Director
COLUMBUS – Leaders of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks (OASHF) are expressing concern about the long-term impact of rising energy costs on working poor Ohioans struggling to make ends meet and on the state’s major hunger relief network itself.
“Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, but has had far reaching effects,” said Dan Flowers, OASHF Board Chairman. “While its impact, without question, was devastating for the people of Louisiana and Mississippi, here in Ohio we are also dealing with the economic ramifications of the storm.” Flowers said his organization has sent several semi-trailers of food and household supplies to Louisiana, but is also at the same time facing low food inventories and high transportation costs closer to home.
According to AAA, gasoline prices are up nearly $1 per gallon from this time one year ago and have recently spiked to more than $3 per gallon. Ohio’s working poor families, many of whom barely survive between paychecks, must now decide between fueling their cars or putting food on the table.
“This is a decision no family should have to make,” said Lisa Hamler Fugitt, OASHF Executive director. “Without the ability to drive to their jobs, these families have no source of income. But paying for gasoline depletes the money that might otherwise be available to purchase groceries.” Hamler Fugitt said that increased transportation costs have also led to higher food prices at the grocery store and that for many families, their grocery budgets do not buy as many bags of groceries as it did previously, leading many families to seek emergency food relief from Ohio’s food pantries and soup kitchens. She said seniors and others living on a fixed income also are at risk from higher gasoline and food costs.
Impacts on donors and relief providers
These costs have had an impact on the ability of traditional food donors to deliver surplus or donated product to the state’s foodbanks. Many donors have asked OASHF agencies to pick up donated food, instead of providing delivery. Further, Ohio’s foodbanks, which deliver food to more than 3,000 member charities in all 88 Ohio counties, also are feeling the strain of high gas prices, spending more than ever to transport food throughout the network.
“At a time when our economy is slow to recover and more than one million Ohioans are living below the federal poverty level, this unanticipated cost increase could have a terrible effect on hunger relief,” said Hamler Fugitt. She said several food pantries in Ohio have closed due to a lack of food, and that many are operating on reduced hours to accommodate lower-than-usual inventories.
Concerns about winter heat
Both Flowers and Hamler Fugitt are very concerned about forecasts that predict higher heat bills this winter. The federal government has estimated that natural gas prices this winter could range between 37 and 50 percent above 2004 averages.
“There is no doubt that if these predictions come true, it will be terrible for Ohio families – and Ohio’s hunger relief providers,” said Flowers. “No person should have to make the choice between heating their home and putting food on the table.” He also indicated that the resources of the state's foodbanks, which typically have large warehouses in which donated food is stored, may be diverted from hunger relief to utility payments under massive increases in energy bills.
OASHF is generally supportive of recent discussions by the Ohio General Assembly and Governor Bob Taft to identify ways to use TANF funds to provide assistance in paying home heating bills to the state’s needy families this winter.
Giving a little extra
Organizations like OASHF and its parent organization, Second Harvest, have played an active role in relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina. But the organization recognizes that the recent influx of donations to Louisiana and Mississippi may reduce contributions to local charities. In addition, some food provided to state hunger relief groups by the federal government has been diverted to the Gulf Coast.
“We are hopeful that Ohioans, who have been more than generous over the years, will open their wallets a little wider and continue to support the work of the state’s hunger relief providers,” said Hamler Fugitt. She said the group and its local foodbanks continue to welcome both financial donations and food donations. Shelf-stable foods, like canned goods and boxed dinners, are particularly valuable.
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Editors’ Note: Interviews with foodbank officials and tours of local foodbanks and hunger relief charities are available. This is an excellent opportunity to localize a story about the impact on Ohio of rising energy costs and Hurricane Katrina.
CONTACTS: Lisa Hamler Fugitt, Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks, 614/221-4336 or 614/271-4803 (cell); Dan Flowers, Akron/Canton Regional Foodbank, 330/535-6900 Ext. 135