Ohio set to use $50 million from hunger relief fund

  • An estimated 1,351,090 Ohioans are going hungry. Among them are 412,670 children.
  • The hunger problem is compounded by high food and fuel prices, the housing crisis and supply chain issues.

Middle Ohio Food Collective President and CEO Matt Habash recently looked into his warehouse and saw a nightmare scenario for any organization charged with delivering food to those in need: empty locker after empty locker.

The view contrasted sharply with the abundance the food bank had when COVID-19[feminine] is raging around the world and right here in Greater Columbus.

Food insecurity at the height of the pandemic and current food insecurity are two different beasts.

The knights who fight them in battle will also have to be different.

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After Arnold’s Sports Festival became Ohio’s first event restricted due to COVID concerns on March 5, 2020the collective adopted a contingency plan and ordered $5 million worth of food.

“What we knew was on the horizon was all this (federal) government food,” Habash told our Editorial Board. “We are at it today, and we don’t see any horizon where the food is coming in and the number (of the needy) is much, much higher than it was during the pandemic.”

Gov. Mike DeWine and state lawmakers are expected to rush to help address a problem compounded by inflation, gas prices, the affordable housing crisis, child care and supply chain issues triggered by the pandemic.

After all, they are sitting on the money.

A fraction of the $1.9 billion received by Ohio under the American Rescue Plan Act would go a long way toward feeding Ohio families.

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More nightmare scenarios on the horizon

There have been volunteer and logistical issues during the pandemic, but supplies have never been an issue for Middle Ohio Food Collectivea non-profit organization that has its own food pantry and provides food to soup kitchens, after-school programs and food pantries operated by 680 partner agencies in Franklin and 19 Ohio counties.

There’s more inventory at the food bank now than the day Habash looked and saw those empty shelves, but he says he’s still more ‘nervous’ about the food than he was. during his 38 years with the collective.

The problem with keeping Habash awake at night is clearly not just a Franklin or Columbus county issue.

It’s a statewide crisis that should be at the top of the agenda for DeWine and the Ohio General Assembly.

All-too-real nightmare scenarios are already playing out in small food banks.

Mike Hochron

“Our friends (at the Southeastern Ohio Food Bank) reduced (the food provided) and they actually closed a lot of their distribution points because they don’t have enough food,” Habash told us. to respond to this request.

Feed America estimates that 1,351,090 Ohioans are going hungry. Among them are 412,670 children.

With the COVID-related expansion to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) end, seniors are soon expected to make up nearly a quarter of all visitors to Ohio’s pantry, Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging Chief Policy Officer Beth Kowalczyk wrote in a recent letter to the editor.

Mike Hochron, senior vice president of communications for the Mid-Ohio Food Collective, told our board that demand for his agency’s food is up 21% year-to-date compared to 2021.

The collective served 661,603 people during this period. Just under 98,000 of these people sought help for the first time, an increase of nearly 30% from 2021.

About 67% of them live in Franklin County.

“We are in uncharted waters when it comes to how many of our neighbors need help,” Hochron told us.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, center, talks with Matt Habash, left, president and CEO of the Mid-Ohio Food Collective, as he tours the Mid-Ohio Foodbank in Grove City.

It’s time for Governor DeWine and lawmakers to save starving Ohios

Mid-Ohio Food Collective announced earlier this year that its “Rooted in You” campaign raised $41 million, exceeding its goal of $30 million.

But this will not help meet emergency food needs.

Campaign money is limited to a list of initiatives which includes Mid Ohio Markets, Mid Ohio Farm and Middle Ohio Kitchen and cannot be used for this food shortage crisis.

Hochron and Habash say the community strongly supports the work of the collective, and donations from business partners such as Kroger, Walmart and Amazon remain strong.

The collective used $1 million from its general fund to purchase emergency food.

Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin announced Tuesday that the city has approved $1 million, and the collective is optimistic. Franklin County commissioners will approve his request for $1.5 million.

This money is just a band-aid.

It’s high time for lawmakers in DeWine and Ohio to step in to help Ohioans facing food insecurity, especially children and the elderly.

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The Ohio Association of Food Banks which represents 12 regional food banks and 3,700 pantries, soup kitchens and hunger relief programs has asked the governor and the legislature for emergency assistance of $50 million of the remaining $1.9 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act funds granted to the state.

Mid-Ohio Food Collective — the state’s largest food bank — would receive about 20% of those bailout dollars.

Families live on edge

Help is needed here, especially with federal programs and improvements such as the Child Tax Credit has ended, terminated, or been cancelled.

The unemployment rate is low in Columbus, as it is in most of the country, but that doesn’t mean people are making money in spades.

Habash told us that the majority of people served by his agency are employed. Many have multiple jobs.

“These are people who try. These are people who work,” he said. “We’re getting all these new families living on the edge.”

Foraging for food in a pantry is often the last resort.

As the saying goes, rent eats first.

The median rent in Columbus rose 16.9% between May 2021 and May 2022, according to the Dwellsy rental website. That’s an increase of $177 per month. The median rent was $1,222 in June.

Nearly 40% of Greater Columbus households are renters, according to the National Housing for Low Income People Coalition. The average salary here is $16.99 per hour.

Add the Great Columbus’ affordable housing crisis rising fuel and food costs, supply chain issues, the cost of childcare and inflation that hit a 40-year high in June and other economic issues exacerbated by the pandemic and it’s no wonder the collective is experiencing record demand.

Matt Habash is the President and CEO of Mid-Ohio Food Collective.  The organization connects nutritious food to families in 20 Ohio counties.

Food banks are struggling

In April, Feeding America — which represents the collective and thousands of other food banks and partner agencies — reported that food banks are paying 40% more for the same amount of food they purchased in 2021.

The amount of food the collective has obtained from the United States Department of Agriculture’s emergency food aid program and the coronavirus food aid program has dropped by 51%, from 24 million pounds at 11.6 million pounds.

Product variety has been reduced and shipments are less reliable. Over the past year, 73 needed USDA deliveries that the Mid-Ohio Food Collective needed and planned were canceled.

Empty racks at the Mid-Ohio Food Collective warehouse

States can use US bailout dollars to meet a wide range of “needs” brought about by the pandemic and its impact.

If ensuring that the elderly, children and other Ohioans don’t go to bed hungry doesn’t fit the definition of need, we don’t know what is.

This is an opportunity for the governor and state legislators to save Ohioans living too close to the edge.

This article was written by Amelia Robinson, Editor-in-Chief of Dispatch Opinion, on behalf of The Dispatch Editorial Board. Editorials are our Board’s factual assessment of issues important to the communities we serve. These are not the opinions of our reporting staff, who strive to be neutral in their reporting.

Empty racks at the Mid-Ohio Food Collective warehouse

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