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.

Local Matters puts healthful meals in reach

Day by Day
Local Matters puts healthful meals in reach

By LIZ THOMPSON
December 31, 2018
This Week News

 “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

This old adage is attributed to many different cultures. Unfortunately, food insecurity, including lack of access to fresh food, is real for too many.

During the holidays, many of us have reached for one too many sweets and second helpings of all kinds of food. Dieting becomes a New Year’s resolution.

We should be mindful of our diet, not dieting, throughout our lives. No matter our age, diseases such as Type 2 diabetes might plague us in part due to poor food choices. If we never learned how to prepare foods healthfully or have no available fresh food, it complicates overall health.

Through the years, I learned how to love cooking from scratch using basic foods. I have been fortunate to have a garden for many years.

Not everyone has these opportunities. That is where Local Matters comes in.

In 2005, co-founders Michael Jones and Noreen Warnock were looking for answers to big questions about our food system. They wanted to keep our children healthier and ensure that everyone had access to healthful and affordable food.

Jones is a chef. When he and his wife were expecting their first child, he read an article that said children of his child’s generation would be the first whose life expectancy would be shorter than their parents’.

When he learned that food was the root of the problem, he was called to action.

Warnock grew up in a low-income family that struggled to make ends meet. As a mother of two who understood the role food played in raising a healthy family on a budget, she advocated for organic food on local grocery-store shelves. She wanted everyone to have equal access to healthful foods.

Warnock’s work with community organizations led to the creation of the Greater Columbus Foodshed Project. This project helped create more than 20 community gardens.

These two founders’ visions became Local Matters in 2008.

The 20 staff members and 200 active volunteers work with families to teach them how to shop, plan and prepare healthful foods on a budget.

Local Matters, based in south Columbus (Ohio), has partnered with schools, hospitals, Maryhaven Women’s Center, Mount Carmel College of Nursing and food-access partners to reach those in need.

“Food is pivotal in health. Dietary choices can promote recovery from disease, worsen chronic illness and influence day-to-day energy levels,” said Kelsey Sicker, a member of the Ohio State University College of Medicine’s class of 2019. My involvement with Local Matters has given me comfort in discussing food and cooking, particularly in a relatable way for patients to readily apply to daily life.”

This year, Local Matters will launch Fresh Stand. It is an affordable, mobile, fruit-and-vegetable stand designed to provide food access.

It will partner with corner stores to sell fresh produce that, when paired with the store’s shelf-stable items such as rice, pasta, flour, sugar and oil, will allow customers to create a whole, healthful and affordable meal.

There will be hands-on demonstrations to show how to simplify food-preparation habits, build new skills and give people confidence to create a delicious meal.

Fresh Stand will work with leadership at churches and other places of worship to sell produce through Second Sundays, during which the Fresh Stand will sell produce and meal bags directly to residents on a monthly basis.

Local Matters will sell produce through Fresh Stand at schools, recreation centers and community growing spaces, allowing students and families to purchase meal ingredients after school hours.

We can make a personal difference with our own choices and teaching our children.

Learn more by calling Local Matters at 614-263-5662, emailing info@ local-matters.org or reading about what its volunteers and staff are doing at local-matters.org.