Food bank turns 40 as local need intensifies

Day by Day:
Food bank turns 40 as local need intensifies
By LIZ THOMPSON
August 9, 2020
This Week News

Rearranging food containers to make room in a packed-full fridge is a delicious plight not everyone has.

Matt Habash, president and CEO of Mid-Ohio Food Collective, tells a story about a mother who came to the organization’s food pantry with her 14-year-old daughter.

When the girl was offered a piece of fresh fruit, she replied, “It’s not my day to eat,” Habash said.

“She explained … that her family was taking turns eating in order to make the food stretch throughout the week, even though her father worked a full- and a part-time job, while her mother cared for their three children and grandparents,” he said.

Situations like this are why, 40 years ago, the idea of the food pantry began. It grew from a small pantry in the basement of a church into Operation Feed Foodbank.

Forty years later, the Mid-Ohio Food Collective, 3960 Brookham Drive, Grove City, is celebrating its anniversary.

“In our first year, we distributed 205,200 pounds of food. In 1986, Operation Feed Foodbank moved to a larger warehouse on West Mound Street and became Mid-Ohio Foodbank,” Habash said. “That year, we distributed 9.5 million pounds of food.

“Today, the food bank is located in our 204,000-square-foot, Gold-LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified facility in Grove City and serves as the anchor asset of the Mid-Ohio Food Collective.”

Mid-Ohio Farm on the Hilltop, Mid-Ohio Kitchen, Mid-Ohio Farmacy and Mid-Ohio Markets emerged from a brand refresh that began in January.

“Over the decades, we’ve learned that hunger goes beyond the dinner plate — a car breaking down, losing a job, combating racism, finding affordable housing, or earning a decent wage,” the organization’s website says. “The Mid-Ohio Food Collective is about rolling our sleeves and meeting our neighbors where they are.”

More than half of the food it distributes is fresh. The food bank doles out more than 75 million pounds of food a year — enough for at least 155,000 meals every day.

“Especially with the current pandemic, we have people who are in need of food more often, and we have customers who are coming to us for the very first time,” Habash said. “From March to June, we measured a 30% increase in food distribution compared to the same time period last year.”

The collective believes in food as health. When reducing food insecurity, it effectively is creating healthier communities. Healthier people mean better health outcomes while helping to lessen health-care costs.

“Food matters; nutritious food matters more,” Habash said.

Not all customers come through a food pantry. They may come through a referral from their physician or while attending Columbus State Community College. Habash said the collective is thankful for the donors, volunteers and advocates who support its work.

“Volunteers are vital to our mission,” he said. “The work we do would not be possible without them.”

As it transitions from having the National Guard on-site, the collective will need neighbors from the community more than ever to aid in continuing its mission and serving customers during this time of great need. Soon, 734 volunteer slots will need to be filled each week. All precautions are being taken with temperature checks, sanitizing, distancing and masks, and volunteers may work alongside others with whom they already have close contact.

“Whether talking about (the) 14-year-old, or the senior living in isolation making choices about paying for her medicine or paying for food, or the veteran who is so proud … and ashamed to ask for food assistance that he volunteers at a local food pantry, these stories really speak to the resiliency of our families and the commitment they have — like the rest of us — to make sure we have food on the tables for our families,” Habash said.

Before the pandemic, the collective’s research showed the majority of the families it served included an employed person. COVID-19 greatly disrupted this trend. Now, so many families find themselves having to make ends meet during these confusing and unsettling times.

To learn how to help or to find help, go to midohiofoodbank.org or call 614-277-3663.

Pantries, other groups help those in need

Day by Day
Pantries, other groups help those in need
Liz Thompson
January 28, 2015
THISWEEKNEWS

Uncertainty can mean not knowing where your next meal will come from.

Annamarie, 23, knew nothing but living on public assistance during her young life. Her mother dropped out of school with two children and later with a third child, opted to stay home to care for them, rather than find work.

“At this point, she stopped relying on family and got help from government assistance,” Annamarie said. “Even though we were poor, she did everything a stay-at-home mom would do and did it well. I never understood and still do not understand the path she took.”

She said her mother never felt adequate enough to have a job other than child care.

Annamarie said these experiences made her stronger and made her realize she wanted to provide for herself without help. She hopes others will try to understand her story, listen to others in similar situations and not punish the children of parents who don’t take the best path in life.

As soon as Annamarie was old enough, she got a job and broke the cycle of living on public assistance. “Luckily, I had help from my grandparents,” she said.

Her mother, now 40, has her first job and also is no longer on public assistance.

Statistics are only good as a marker. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (cnpp. usda.gov), a family of four, with young children, spends an average of $857 to $1,296 a month for groceries. That’s 4,380 meals a year.

Where you live isn’t always a good indicator of need.

The Worthington Resource Pantry, 445 E. Dublin-Granville Road, Building G, served 1,000 unique families in 2014 and 400 volunteers offered 15,000 hours to the pantry last year. It has a small, paid staff and is a walk-in choice pantry. That means no referral is necessary to walk in the door two times a month for assistance and shopping is similar to a grocery store.

Executive Director Jennifer Fralic explained assistance is based on family size and need. One time a year, adults show photo ID, proof of address and have a valid ID for each child. Eligibility is based on the six ZIP codes where students are enrolled in the school district. Last year, 30 percent of these students qualified for free lunches, up from 25 percent the year before.

They offer clients, called “neighbors,” employment, emergency and health-care resources as well as food. They partner with Columbus Diaper Coalition, for obvious needs, and Sedona Grace Foundation for dog food.

“I love Worthington,” Fralic said. “And love taking care of our neighbors so no one goes hungry. We see many who are either underemployed or experiencing health or family issues.”

This pantry is open 10 a.m. to noon Monday and Saturday and 4-6 p.m. Wednesday.

She agreed with Don Swogger, board president of the Grove City Food Pantry, that they are seeing more seniors with children and families combining households. Those who are homeless are given food they don’t have to cook.

“We give the homeless peanut butter, bread and canned goods and can’t give them meat,” Swogger said.

Grove City Food Pantry, 2710 Columbus St., has 100 volunteers, no paid staff and offers food and emergency services. Service is by referral only from Hands On Central Ohio, 195 N. Grant Ave., 614-221-2255.

“Right now this is mandatory and can cause delays,” Swogger said. “One of my goals is to have our own referral system.”

The pantry serves Grove City, Harrisburg and Orient and is open 2-4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to noon the last two Saturdays of each month. For a family of four, the average given in goods is $135. Families can go to three different pantries a month.

Five years ago, Grove City Food Pantry served about 180 families and now the number is 270.

“Seeing the gratitude of the people truly in need is the highlight of my work,” Swogger said. “I believe it’s a calling from God, for me.”

In 2005, he almost died from complications of surgery and when he recovered he asked God, “What do you want me to do?”

Churches in both cities take turns offering community meals.

Hunger and need are constants in our society. These are only two pantries in a long list. Many people, like Annamarie and her mother, struggle to rise above poverty.

“There are no easy answers,” Swogger said. “All stories are unique.”

To be certain, we can help ease the uncertainty of those in need.

For more information, search handsoncentralohio.org, contact your city offices or local churches.