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Capital News: September proclamation spotlights food banks

by MARC KOVAC | CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF Published: September 8, 2013 12:00 AM

Columbus -- In 2007, more than half a million people in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties received help from the Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley.

Five years later, that number had jumped 56 percent to nearly 786,000, including 167,382 children and 97,967 elderly residents.

In total, the needy in those three counties received more than 9 million pounds of food.

In northeastern Ohio and all across the state, people are hungry but can't afford to put food on their tables.

Food pantries statewide serve more than 2.3 million people each year, distributing upward of 164 million pounds of food. Their clients come from all walks of life.

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There are people who are out of work, some living in areas where there's not much hope of near-term economic prosperity.

There are senior citizens who have retired from the workplace and are barely scraping by on fixed incomes.

There are people who have full-time jobs but don't make enough money to pay the bills and buy groceries.

There are disabled residents who can't work and who rely on public assistance for their daily needs.

"Those of us who work in hunger relief hear the stories every day of Ohioans struggling with the threat of hunger," said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. "We listen to them speak about the impossible choices that they have to make, between paying bills, buying medicine and purchasing food."

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She added, "More than one in five Ohioans, including more than one in four children in Ohio, struggle with the threat of hunger."

Hamler-Fugitt was on hand one day last week when Gov. John Kasich signed a resolution designating September as Hunger Action Month.

It's a mostly symbolic gesture aimed at increasing public attention of the importance of soup kitchens and food pantries and other nonprofits that are providing food and essentials to those who ask.

Food banks will play host to special events over the next 30 days, with hopes of gaining increased support for their efforts from Ohioans who were unaware of the needs or who haven't contributed in the past.

That means you'll have ample opportunity to participate and help your needy neighbors.

If you're wondering about donations, Kim Peters, agency relations manager at the Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley, said they're always in need of peanut butter, canned meats and other protein-rich foods and pantry stables like cereal, pasta and canned vegetables.

You can find a list of pantries online at Ohiofoodbanks.org, with locations serving all 88 counties.

"We're going to make September a big deal and start telling people that these programs matter," Kasich said, adding, " Help these people to have more resources to do their job."

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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