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Columbus Food Pantries Prepare To Serve More Families As Unemployment Benefits Drop

Volunteer helps unload a food truck at St. Stephens Community House in South Linden.
St. Stephens Community House
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Volunteer helps unload a food truck at St. Stephens Community House in South Linden.

Many families have struggled economically during the coronavirus pandemic, and some Columbus food pantries expect demand to rise even more through the fall if federal unemployment benefits are not restored.

“People are really suffering,” says Marilyn Mehaffie, CEO of St. Stephens Community House. “Families are suffering. Kids are suffering. Seniors are suffering. We need to see the relief come faster.”

Mehaffie says St. Stephens in South Linden has been providing food to a larger number of families during the COVID-19 crisis. At the height of Ohio's stay-at-home order, which began in mid-March and forced many employers to close their doors, demand tripled to 180 people a day.

The pantry transformed into a drive-thru facility to keep consumers and workers safe during the pandemic.

In July, after businesses began reopening again, demand dropped down, but was still double what it was before the pandemic. However, Mehaffie says she's seeing an uptick since then.

“Sometimes we’re surprised, and we have way more people than we projected, so that might leave us short for the next day,” says Mehaffie.

With the end of the extra $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits, at the end of July, Mehaffie also began seeing more requests for rent and utility assistance.

“We are now working with those people to make sure that the rent can be paid, the utilities can be paid, but we’re seeing multiple months,” Mehaffie says. “So, people aren’t just coming in with one’s back rent, they’re coming in with two and three.”

Mehaffie says she does not think the job market will improve within the next 6-12 months.

“A lot of our Linden residents are in the service field,” Mehaffie says. “So as more and more restaurants are either going out of business and or reducing their hours, we’re seeing a lot of those staff have reduced hours, which is resulting in them not being able to meet their basic needs.”

At the NNEMAP Food Pantry in South Linden, director Roy Clark is also concerned that more companies will have to lay off their employees. Clark says the pantry is now open six days a week and makes deliveries to those who cannot do curbside pickup.

“We have planned during the last couple of months to expand our services and expand hours so we that can meet what I think is going to be the upcoming demand, as more people are furloughed,” Clark says.

Gov. Mike DeWine has moved forward with President Trump’s executive order that offers federal funds to replace some of those expired $600 weekly benefits. However, Trump’s plan would pay just $300 per week, and says states can contribute an additional $100. Ohio and other states, however, say they don't have enough funding for that.

Mehaffie says decisions need to be made quicker to help those in need.

“Hurry up," she urges. "Please."