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As Pandemic Rages On, Lines And Costs Are Up At Foodbanks Across Ohio

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

This latest omicron variant has schools in Cleveland and Cincinnati going back to remote learning, workplaces delaying returning to offices – and people continuing to head to foodbanks.

Lines are growing at food banks. And with inflation and other issues, so are costs at those food banks.

“Supply chains and the availability of food are getting tighter. The cost of food have gone up significantly just in the last six months. We’re paying 18.5% more for food, the cost of transportation," said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt with the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.

At the same time, private donations from food manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and local food drives are down.

"Private donations, both from food manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and local food drives, generally range between 45% to 50% of the food that we have to distribute," Hamler-Fugitt said. "It's now fallen to a record low of 33.5% of the food that we have to distribute."

Foodbanks are asking the state for $30 million of $620 million in unspent federal COVID relief funds from the American Rescue Plan to help. Hamler-Fugitt said that money would be used not only for food, but also for more personal care, personal hygiene and household cleaning items, as well as PPE, masks, hand sanitizer and COVID testing kits.

Like other businesses, foodbanks are also having staffing issues as well. They're having to pay higher wages to bring in new employees and are competing with commercial trucking operations, schools and governments for people with commercial drivers licenses (CDLs).

Hamler-Fugitt said foodbanks are also asking for $153 million to rebuild infrastructure in the system.

"We've lost nonprofit and faith-based organizations who will not return to these communities as a result of lost revenue, permanent lost revenue," Hamler-Fugitt said.

She said brick-and-mortar storefronts and markets need to be built back up, as well as transportation operations, and that's expensive.

"Two refrigerated box trucks are about $350,000, so we're looking at a lot of fleets that have to be replaced," she said.

Hamler-Fugitt said she's grateful that foodbanks got $24.5 million in the current state budget, but that was not an increase. Hamler-Fugitt said a lot of money was spent on temporary workers after the Ohio National Guard's mission ended last summer, and those short-term workers were expensive.

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