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The Statehouse News Bureau provides educational, comprehensive coverage of legislation, elections, issues and other activities surrounding the Statehouse to Ohio's public radio and television stations.

Ohio food banks experience long lines and higher costs as the pandemic rages on

 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.

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

“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."

Food banks 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.

And like other businesses, food banks 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).

And Hamler-Fugitt said food banks 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 is grateful that food banks received $24.5 million in the current state budget, but that was not an increase. A lot of money was spent on temporary workers, Hamler-Fugitt said, 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.