Northeast Ohio food banks are serving record numbers as hunger plagues working class families
Northeast Ohio food banks are reporting record numbers as food insecurity remains a prevalent issue amid higher living costs.
One in eight Ohioans and one in seven Ohio children face hunger, according to Feeding America. The organization said that amounts to nearly 1.4 million Ohioans not having access to sufficient food.
Kristin Warzocha, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, said her organization served as many people in its most recent fiscal year as it did during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"That is very concerning, as you can imagine," Warzocha said on WKSU's Sound of Ideas. "There are a number of reasons for that. One is higher costs of living. We know and we've been talking with our neighbors in need who are just really struggling to manage higher food costs, higher rent costs, higher utility costs and higher fuel costs all at the same time. And the the part of the budget that gets strained or stretched is the food budget."
Katie Carver Reed, vice president of the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, said the numbers of those in need were even higher for her organization.
"When looking at the data for this year compared to prior years, we're seeing more people visiting our network even than during the pandemic and a 30% increase in visits compared to last year alone," she explained.
Warzocha also noted that American Rescue Plan funding that provided additional SNAP benefits during the pandemic ended in February, meaning some Americans who were receiving extra food money returned to prepandemic assistance dollars, despite high grocery costs.
"We're seeing this increase in need and less support to meet it," Carver Reed added.
As food prices remain high, some Ohioans are struggling to fill their Thanksgiving tables, meaning food banks are working to distribute meals to their networks and partner programs.
The Greater Cleveland Food Bank purchased 17,000 turkeys back in April for distribution over recent weeks, Warzocha said. The organization has also been making home deliveries to seniors challenged by transportation barriers. Area food banks are buying more food than ever due to lingering supply chain issues from the pandemic, Carver Reed added.
Warzocha noted food insecurity hits senior citizens particularly hard but concern for working families is also significant. She said that many people are not eligible for government assistance because they work, and some are working two or three jobs while juggling child care.
"But they are eligible for emergency food, and we want to make sure that they have access to it," she said.
"I think it's a common misconception that people aren't working when they come and need support from a food bank," Carver Reed added. "That's absolutely not true."
The Ohio Association of Food Banks conducted a survey in the spring and found that among those receiving emergency food help, two-thirds said they had to make choices between buying food and meeting other household expenses.
"My fear is that this is not a short-term problem," Warzocha said. "Rising costs and wages that aren't keeping up appear to be a significant continuing issue. Seniors are living longer. They're trying to age at home, and they're running out of food. And so I think both of our food banks have been working to increase our capacity to provide more food across Northeast Ohio.'
Greater Cleveland Food Bank Help Center:
216-738-2067 or toll free 855-738-2067
Cleveland Food Bank website
Cleveland Food Bank Get Help page
Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank website
Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank Help page