Tuesday, November 16, 2010

More and more families in Ohio and across the country do not have enough food

A new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that more than 17.4 million families in America, or 51 million people, were "food insecure" in 2009. In Ohio, nearly 680,000 families, or 14.8% of all families in the state, were food insecure in 2009, according to the report.

The report also explains that number of people in Ohio and all across the country who do not have enough food to eat has increased significantly in recent years.

Click here to read an article from The Washington Post about the report.

Click here to read an article from The Columbus Dispatch about the report, including detailed information about what the report says about food insecurity in Ohio.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Local minister sees more and more families living in poverty

As the number of people living in poverty has increased in recent years, local ministers like Phil Foster have seen more and more people turning to churches and food pantries for help.

“It’s tough,” Foster said. Five years ago, the poverty problem was bad in Athens County, but it wasn’t as bad as it is now, he said. Even just five or 10 months ago, the poverty problem wasn’t this dire, he added. Foster is the minister at the New Life Assembly of God church in Athens. In August, his church held a food giveaway day for the community. The church provided free boxes of food, along with free shoes and other items, beginning at 10 a.m. on a Saturday.

“At 8:30, people were lined up,” Foster said. When his church volunteers arrived at 8:30 a.m. and saw the line of people, they got things ready to go and opened up the doors as quickly as possible. The church had food boxes, free shoes and a few other items to give away, and Foster was happy that so many people received assistance.

“We’ll probably do this again,” Foster said. The August giveaway was made possible by an individual living in Texas who saw the Dateline NBC special report on poverty in America this summer. The report focused on Athens County, and this individual was so moved by it that he wanted to do something to help people in Athens County. Foster explained that the individual contacted his church through Facebook, and then made a donation that made the food giveaway possible.

The church has done other food and clothing giveaways in the past, including several times when church members took boxes of food out to local apartment complexes. In past years, it was difficult at times to find people who would accept the food boxes. When the church members took food boxes out to apartment complexes this year, though, they had no problem finding people to take the food. In addition, the church members could have given out many more food boxes if they were available, Foster said.

The church also receives many more calls for assistance now that it received in past years, Foster added. People all across the country are facing economic hardships, but Foster said that the national recession has been especially difficult on the people in Appalachia.

“There are 10 times more challenges here than other places I have been,” Foster said, adding that he has lived and worked around the country. Many people may think that those who are living in poverty should just get a job and make more money, but sometimes that is not possible, he said.

“It’s not always that simple,” Foster said. Athens County and southeast Ohio do not have enough jobs for the people who need them. In addition, many people work in low-paying jobs and are still living in poverty. It is also difficult for many people to move away from southeast Ohio, as their families live here and it can be expensive to move. These family ties are often a critical support system for the poor.

It’s a nearly impossible situation for people to be in, and Foster and his church do what they can to help people in need. He wishes his church could do more, and his church will try to do more to help, Foster said.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Program provides daily meals for hundreds of local children

Each year, more and more children in Athens County and across Ohio benefit from the free and reduced lunch programs at the public schools. During the summer months, though, many families do not have enough money to pay for all of the meals for their children, so summer feeding programs spring up across the region. One of the largest programs of this kind in Athens County is run by the Nelsonville Community Center.

The center, which is staffed completely by volunteers, is led by Rhonda Bentley. She explained that every Monday through Friday in the summer, community center volunteers served breakfast and lunch to children at the park next to the city pool. Breakfast was served from 9-10 a.m., and it usually drew around 100 children. Lunch was served from 1-2 p.m., and often drew around 300. I n a city of around 5,000 people, it is stunning to have that many children showing up for free lunches every day.

“It’s amazing to me, too,” Rhonda said. Many of the children are at the city pool on the hot summer days, and then they walk to the park for the free lunches. Their families may be able to find the money to get the children in the pool, but without this program many of the children would not have had money for lunch, Rhonda said.

Many of the children also come to the park just for the lunches. Some show up early and wait, and some pick up their lunches and take them home or to wherever they are playing that day. On rainy days when people are not swimming, the Nelsonville Community Center still passes out more than 160 free lunches.

Hocking-Athens-Perry Community Action provides the food for the breakfast and lunch programs. The meals are all very basic, with lunches made up of items such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, turkey and cheese sandwiches, apples, raisins, celery and peanut butter. The breakfast meals include items such as cereal, fruit, milk and bagels.

The Nelsonville Community Center also offers after-school programs, clubs for children to join, and other activities. The center is a safe and warm place where children of all ages can gather after school and in the summer.

The center also offers programming for adults, a free community lunch on Fridays, free clothing and other items, and furniture sold for very low prices. The center accepts donated furniture, and then sells the furniture items in order to help pay the utility bills for the building. There are no income limits on purchasing the furniture.

“We’d like everyone to come in. We need to sell as much furniture as possible in order to pay the bills,” Rhonda said.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Federal leaders respond to Dateline NBC report by cutting food assistance benefits to the poor

President Obama and Congress are slashing food assistance benefits for our poorest citizens.
After Dateline NBC aired a special report on poverty in America recently, many people were waiting to see what the response would be from our country’s leaders.

The national news program showed people standing in lines for food, explained how people at the Friends and Neighbors Community Choice Food Center in Lottridge were sending messages on paper plates to The White House asking for help, and told the stories of several families who, just like families all across America, are struggling to meet their basic needs of food and shelter. The response from Congress and The White House was clear and it was shocking, as they chose to cut food benefits for the poor at a time when it is clear that food stamps are not meeting the needs of our country’s families.

“This is shameless,” said Jack Frech, Athens County Job and Family Services director. “This is how our leaders are answering these pleas for help, by taking food away from poor families who already do not have enough food to make it through the month. If the President and Congress feel there is somehow ‘extra’ money in the food stamp program, they need to expand benefits and eligibility rules so that families do not have to depend on food pantries to feed their children.”

The U.S. Senate has already approved a bill to cut food benefits to the poor, and the U.S House of Representatives will soon be voting on this bill as well. Advocates for the poor all across the country are speaking out against this bill, and Athens County Job and Family Services also strongly opposes it. Below are links to additional articles about the proposed legislation.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Dateline NBC special focuses on poverty in southeastern Ohio

Dateline NBC’s Sunday, July 25 program provided a look at the many challenges facing people living in poverty today. The program featured several people from Athens County and southeastern Ohio who have a very difficult time just meeting their basic needs of food and shelter. We appreciate that Dateline NBC chose to come to Athens County in order to show people around the country how the poor have been hurt by the country’s economic downturn.

The stories shown on Dateline NBC are heartbreaking, as the people interviewed face numerous obstacles and are in nearly impossible situations.

What is even more heartbreaking, though, is that there are countless other people in Athens County, in southeastern Ohio and all across the country who are facing similar economic hardships and despair. People all across America are living in poverty and facing numerous challenges that make it nearly impossible to improve their financial situations.

We appreciate how people like Lisa Roberts and Rhonda Bentley are doing so much in Athens County to help those who are living in need. At the same time, people should not have to wait in lines for food. Our country’s cash assistance and food assistance programs need to provide adequate assistance so that people are able go to grocery stores and buy their own food for their own homes.

The Dateline NBC program is posted on the Dateline NBC website, which is located at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032600. The website also features additional footage that did not make it into the program from people around southeastern Ohio.

If you would like to contact the Friends and Neighbors Community Food Center and/or its director, Lisa Roberts, call 877-223-7161 or log onto http://www.friends-n-neighbors.org/.

If you would like to contact Rhonda Bentley and the Nelsonville Community Center, call (740) 753-4100.

If you would like to contact the Second Harvest Foodbank in Logan, call (740) 385-6813 or (800) 385-6813.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Athens Farmers Market leads the way

The Athens Farmers Market leads all farmers markets in Ohio in the number of customers it serves who are receiving Food Assistance Program benefits. And this summer, the Athens Farmers Market is offering extra incentives to customers who use their Food Assistance benefits to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at the market. Click here to read more about how the Athens Farmers Market has made it easy for area residents to use their Food Assistance benefits to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Additional comments from the Athens County ABLE program graduation ceremony

The Athens County Adult Basic Literacy and Education (ABLE) program at The Work Station held its annual GED graduation ceremony on Friday, June 4 at Chauncey Elementary School. Several of the graduates talked after the ceremony about how the program has helped them and about what their plans are now.

Michelle Strong, 19, of Nelsonville, was not able to graduate from her high school because of a problem with her credit hours, so she enrolled in the GED program to finish. She earned her GED in 2009, the same year that she would have graduated from high school, and enjoyed working with the teachers and other students in the GED program.

“I thought it was really awesome,” Strong said. She plans to continue her education in college and may study early childhood education.

David Riddle, 21, of Grove City, was just a few credits short of graduating from high school when he dropped out so that he could work and earn money for his family. He and his wife and son moved to southern Ohio for a time, and Riddle tried to get by without going back to school and getting his degree.

“I just lacked the motivation,” he said. Being a father has made him more responsible, and he knew that he needed to go back to school and earn his GED so that he would be able to get better jobs and be better able to support his family. “I think it will open a lot of doors for me,” he said.

Cristy James, 53, of Nelsonville, decided to earn her GED in order to improve her job prospects. She plans to now continue her education at the Tri-County Career Center. James was originally nervous about going back to school, but she knew it was important that she earn her GED.

“It was hard,” she said about first going back. The staff at The Work Station helped her a great deal, and she enjoyed the GED program. “I liked it. It really helped me,” James said.

Shandi Kincaid, 21, of Bainbridge also decided to earn her GED in order to improve her job opportunities.

“I need a better job and no one will hire me without an education,” Kincaid said. She hopes to eventually work in human resources management, and is thankful for all of the assistance she received from the ABLE program.

“It was a really good program,” Kincaid said. “They really helped me a lot.” After the ceremony, the graduates and their family members and friends were treated to dinner and a performance by the Back Porch Swing Band. Also, local musician Bob Montalto played the piano before and during the graduation ceremony.

Click here for more photos from the ceremony.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

GED graduates honored at ceremony

The Adult Basic and Literacy Education (ABLE) GED Graduation Ceremony for Athens County was a relatively small and quiet event, but the June 4 celebration was a monumental occasion that marked a major accomplishment in the lives of the graduates and their families.

Around 70 people earned their GEDs in the Athens County program during the 2009-2010 school year, and 11 of the graduates took part in the commencement ceremony inside the Chauncey Elementary School gymnasium. One of the graduates was Nekisha Singer, who gave one of the two main speeches during the event. Singer, who became emotional several times during her remarks, explained that she dropped out of high school after she became pregnant at the age of 16.

“I knew I had to grow up quickly,” she said. Singer was told several times when she was younger that she had a learning disability, and she explained that school was frustrating for her at times. She decided to go back to school in the last year to earn her GED for her family and for herself.

“To prove to myself that I am no different and that I can do whatever I put my mind to,” Singer said. She thanked ABLE teachers Scott Hatfield and Candy Byron for all of their assistance, and said she hopes they understand how big of an impact they have had on her life. She also thanked her family members and friends for their support.

“Thank you all for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself,” Singer said. She also told the other graduates that they should be proud of their accomplishments and that they should also share their stories of the GED program with other people in the community.

“Inspire them to go back to school and realize their hopes and dreams,” said Singer. She will now continue her education at Columbus State Community College.

“I know that the sky is the limit for me and for all of my fellow graduates,” Singer said.

Graduate Alicia Hale also gave a few remarks, and explained that she decided to go back to school to earn her GED for one main reason.

“I did it for my three little boys,” Hale said. She thanked her family and friends, as well as the staff at The Work Station for their support, and said that she also plans to now go to college.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Survey on poverty-related issues now posted online

An Ohio University class surveyed voters across the state earlier this year about their opinions on poverty and found that Ohioans want state leaders do more to help the poor. At the same time, though, Ohio residents differ in their opinions on how best to help the poor, according to the survey results. The survey asked Ohio residents about a wide range of issues related to poverty in Ohio. Click here to read the survey.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Survey examines Ohio residents opinions on poverty-related issues

An Ohio University class surveyed Ohio voters about their opinions on poverty-related issues recently and found some very interesting results.

Representatives from the class, as well as representatives from Athens County Job and Family Services, will discuss the survey results at a Friday, May 28 press conference held at noon in Ohio University's Lasher Hall. Click here to read more about the survey and the press conference.