More local families seek help from food bank

Nov. 12—The number of people seeking food aid in Clark and Champaign counties has increased — in part due to inflation and pandemic-era benefits ending — bringing more first-timers and traditional families to the local foodbank.

The Second Harvest Food Bank of Clark, Champaign and Logan Counties has worked to adjust, too, according to Executive Director Andy Irick. That includes serving more Haitian immigrants and changing hours to help families who are working but need assistance.

As of the end of September, the local food bank had served 48,000 unduplicated neighbors across the three counties, which means each person is counted only once. That is roughly a 10 percent increase vs. the same time period last year, when Second Harvest had served 43,000 to 44,000 people.

Irick said they anticipate that number will exceed 50,000 by the end of the year.

The food bank has distributed about 6 million pounds of food through September this year.

"Hunger is somewhere around 11 to 12% at the state (level) and a little bit higher at the national level," Irick said. "So, 12% of our households are experiencing hunger and food insecurity."

Second Harvest is a part of the network of Feeding America foodbanks nationwide, 12 of which are in Ohio.

Feeding America annually collects data regarding food insecurity, or the state of lacking consistent access to nutritious food. Feeding America released its 2021 report this year. The data is collected annually, analyzed by Feeding America the next year and published the year following.

According to Feeding America, more than 16% of children in the region are also food insecure.

"Feeding America is a great support for us. They offer us opportunities to share best practices with other food banks," Irick said.

Biggest factors

The two biggest factors for the increase are, from Irick's perspective, Springfield's immigrant population growth and the reduction of SNAP benefits earlier this year.

In February, pandemic-era emergency SNAP benefits, which added to recipients' monthly allotment based on income and household size, ended.

Since then, roughly 5% of 2,000 SNAP participants polled by the Ohio Association of Foodbanks said their benefits lasted the full month.

Development Director Jennifer Brunner said the number of people using the food bank is higher than pre-COVID figures. She cited SNAP's change and inflation as factors for families.

" ... It just created a gap for a lot of people," she said. "That was a big loss to a lot of families that needed that."

Irick also noted the growth of Clark County's Haitian immigrant population, estimated at 5,000 to 10,000 by local groups.

"So we are working to accommodate them into our community, and the food bank plays a crucial roll in that," Irick said. "While that is not our most significant community, it is the fastest-growing right now."

National studies, too, point to food insecurity significantly increasing. A United States Department of Agriculture study published this year said that in 2022, the number of people living in food insecure households across the United States was estimated as 44 million total individuals. That's an increase of 31% compared to 2021.

First-time users

Brunner said seeing more first-time users and traditional working families has been a big change. She said about a third of the households served in September were new to the food bank.

"Every month a substantial percentage of our neighbors that come through (are ones) who never needed our services but are feeling the financial strain," Brunner said. "First you reduce your food budget because you have to pay rent, a car payment, other bills you can't cut out. That results in seeing so many first-time neighbors."

Brunner said that's why Second Harvest put an emphasis on providing distributions and opportunities to get food after traditional business hours and stays open later.

The food bank extended its emergency pick up, drive-thru distribution in its alley from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They also changed its Friday distribution to Mondays from 4:30 to 6 p.m. on Clark State College's Leffel Lane campus.

Micki Stokes, who uses the food bank with her mother, Frances, said they have been getting deliveries every Monday for many years since they don't have a car.

"If it wasn't for them, I don't know what we would have done. They bring (food pantry deliveries) to us every Monday. It's wonderful," she said.

Stokes thanked the food bank and its delivery workers.

"Thank God. It's so awesome they give us delivery. It really saved us ... (and) with my mom being 94, she loves it," she said.

Only 'when they need it'

Irick made a point that "food insecurity does not mean poverty." He said government shutdowns, illnesses, layoffs, strikes or temporary reduction in income can all put a family into food insecurity, which can happen to anyone.

"What's interesting, that we hope a lot of people realize, is that people only really do come to the food bank when they need it. Some come once or twice a whole year, when they're short, have a bad month and need help," Brunner said. "We're expecting to see a lot of neighbor traffic through our agencies the next two months leading into the holidays."

Second Harvest has more than 800 volunteers with "a lot of avenues" of volunteerism, such as sorting at the warehouse and distributing food, and the organization is funded in several ways, including donated dollars and grants. Still, challenges remain.

"It's a challenge in just that we have to ask, and we also have to continue to prove ourselves that what we do and what (people) give us is being used for a great purpose," Irick said. "COVID brought out a lot of dollars both from the government and generosity of people. That generosity is still very high in our community ... We're always asking, I know, but we also have very gracious people in our community that answer the call."

Second Harvest is under new leadership with Irick and Brunner. She focuses on fundraising and major gift efforts.

Irick, a retail banker for 37 years before retiring in December, said he's had a lot to learn since joining the food bank in July.

"We have a really good team here, the state association and board has been really good, and we've had a lot of help," he said. "I've been able to come in and understand that things are changing and why."

'What we do matters'

Irick said it's been "very rewarding to know that what we do matters," and he gave an example of one of his experiences. He was serving in the line at a distribution about a week ago, working with a young man.

"(He) speaks fluent French and is from France, but also speaks Hattian Creole and was able to relate to people who didn't speak (English)," Irick said. "He could really connect with them, and I really appreciate that. That's the kind of thing that really warmed my heart. He was able to provide them with conversation, dignity and what we're striving to do here, which is help."

Second Harvest has 60 agency partners, such as food pantries, across the three counties who directly serve about 40% of the community, with the food bank serving about 60%. Brunner said they are hoping to grow their partner agencies to "get food into those areas of each county that is underserved."

How to help

The food bank is always in need of help and donations, which are helpful, especially for the holiday meals such as the Thanksgiving items, Brunner said. For example, they often have to purchase turkeys because that's not something that normally gets donated and there's no food drive for it.

"Food drives are great, but we're really encouraging doing a fund drive," she said. "We will still offer food drives, but also understand a lot of people have staff working from home, not in the office, so we don't want someone to manage the barrel, pick up, delivery, bringing in an item. It's a lot easier to do a virtual drive."

Organizations or companies can contact Brunner, who will create an online campaign that's unique to the organization, and they can set a goal for people to visit the website and donated. For those interested, contact Brunner at jbrunner@theshfb.org and express interest in a virtual food drive.

Second Harvest will also host its upcoming dessert auction from 5 to 7 p.m. on Nov. 21 at Mother Stewart's Brewing Co. Community members, businesses and others will make desserts for people to bid on, win and take to their Thanksgiving meals. There will be an auctioneer, about 30 different desserts, and a table with $20 items.

For more information about Second Harvest, to find the distribution schedule or to donate, visit www.theshfb.org, call 937-325-8715 or mail a check to 20 N. Murray St., Springfield, OH 45503.

BY THE NUMBERS

12%: Households experiencing hunger and food insecurity

48,000: Unduplicated people served in the 3 counties this year

6 million: Pounds of food distributed this year