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Business & Economy

Inflation is increasing demand at Ohio's food banks, leading to a struggle to keep shelves stocked

 A volunteer prepares an order at the Westerville Area Resource Ministry (WARM) food pantry in December 2020.
Karen Kasler
/
Statehouse News Bureau
A volunteer prepares an order at the Westerville Area Resource Ministry (WARM) food pantry in December 2020.

As many low-income Ohioans struggle to keep up with the rising price of gas and rent, they are increasingly turning to food banks when they run out of money to make ends meet.

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, the executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, said shelves at Ohio's food banks are sometimes bare these days. She said while the need is up, donations are down as the food supply at food banks is also shrinking due to inflation.

"We're paying more for the same amount of food that we were purchasing last year because of food costs being up. In fact, on average, we spent about 42 cents a pound for the food that we acquired and now it's over $1.04 a pound," Hamler-Fugitt said.

Hamler-Fugitt said many Ohioans were still getting some pandemic food assistance last year but not right now. She added that food banks are getting more requests for help from older Ohioans.

"We're seeing more senior citizens than we've ever seen. They are the canaries in the coal mine. They are living on very low, fixed incomes generally derived by social security. Persons with disabilities are in the same situation and again, their limited budgets are just are not able to stretch far enough to meet their basic needs so they are turning to us more frequently at a time when we don't have it," Hamler-Fugitt explained.

Hamler-Fugitt said she's requested $50 million of federal coronavirus funds from the state to help meet the needs of food banks but has not received those yet.

"The American Rescue Act Plan that President Biden signed some 15 months ago provided supports for the state. In fact, Ohio received $5.3 billion dollars for the specific purpose to help recover, repay, restore and rebuild from the coronavirus, meaning that individuals who were most affected and communities that were most affected by the coronavirus, these funds were to be used. And while we have been the recipients of other funding, we have not received any of the ARPA funds," Hamler-Fugitt said.

Hamler-Fugitt said those funds are being spent on a myriad of things from state parks and trails to an animal disease facility to other things that are not getting to the people in need, the people who are suffering as a result.

She said the state has more than $1.9 billion of non-obligated federal relief dollars and she said her organization is urging Gov. Mike DeWine to allocate them to help the food banks.

All of this is coming at the onset of summer when many needy students are no longer being fed at schools. Hamler-Fugitt said 297 sponsors are providing food to low-income kids at about 1,900 summer sites. But she said in 33 of Ohio's 88 counties, there are no summer food service programs. She said her organization will be redoubling efforts in those areas.

She urged community groups and companies that would like to help to go to the Ohio Department of Education's website to get information on how to start a summer food service program site. Families who want to get their children help through the program can also find a map of available summer food program sites at that website.

"We need to replenish our food banks and insure that when hungry Ohioans turn at their darkest hour of need to a local food bank, food pantry or food kitchen, there is going to be food on the shelves," Hamler-Fugitt said.

Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.