Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Foodbanks see need increase, supplies decrease

While the federal government discusses $700 billion bailouts and broad economic plans, hundreds of southeast Ohio residents are lining up in the middle of the night in the hopes of receiving food.
All of the local food pantries are seeing an increase in demand, but the huge need is especially shocking to see at the Smith Chapel Food Pantry in Logan.
Dannie Devol, coordinator for the food pantry, explained that people will often begin arriving the night before the once-a-month giveaway, waiting in their cars until the pantry opens at 8 a.m. When the pantry opens, the line of cars can stretch for 1 ½ miles.
Many of the people wait in their cars all night so that they can get to work on time in the morning after picking up their food, Devol said. Many also just want to make sure they can get food items they need for their family members.
“About a year and a half ago, we had about 400, 450 (families receiving food boxes). It’s up to 750 now,” Devol said.
Marilyn Sloan, food bank manager for the Second Harvest Food Bank in Logan, explained that the Smith Chapel Food Pantry has items such as apples, bread, cereals, tomato paste, vegetable soup, tomato juice, green beans, corn, peas, rice, dried cherries, applesauce, beef stew, ham and wide noodles to give to area residents.
The Second Harvest Food Bank is a regional food center that distributes supplies to food pantries in 10 southern Ohio counties.
Hocking County currently has 10 active food pantries. Ten years ago, the demand was much smaller and the county only had four active food pantries, Sloan said.
“We had so much food back then, and now that things are really hard, the demand is up and the donations of food are down,” Sloan said.
The country’s economic recession has hurt manufacturers that used to donate to the food pantries, and it has also hurt numerous public and private donors who used to contribute, she said.
“They have scaled back,” Sloan said.
Some people who used to drive others to the food banks are now in the position where they need to receive food boxes in order to make it through the month, Sloan explained.
“What we are seeing more and more of is elderly and people who are on disability who are just not making enough money to keep up with the demands,” Sloan said. “It’s just a very difficult time for our families.”

The 750 families served by the Smith Chapel Pantry in October represented more than 2,000 people who received food, Devol explained. He talks often with senior citizens, veterans, individuals who are disabled and people who have lost their jobs about the problems they are having making ends meet every month. Many people are also working in the community and simply can’t make enough money at their jobs to pay all of their bills, he added.
“The economy, it’s just thrown everything into a real tough situation for us,” Devol said.
The food pantry also runs a thrift store that is open on Wednesdays and Fridays. Many people in the community donate clothing and other items to the thrift store, which sells the clothing items for $0.50 each. Winter coats cost $1 a piece.
By charging a small amount per item, it helps raise money for the pantry and it also brings in customers who would not come in for hand-outs, Devol said.
“Last year, this little shop took in $39,000,” Devol said. All of the money from the thrift store goes to the food pantry, and it makes up about 50 percent of the food pantry’s budget, he said.
The food pantry also receives donations from organizations such the United Way and Wal-Mart, as well as receiving a small amount of government funding and a large number of private donations from the community.
“Wal-Mart has been very supportive,” he said, adding that the food pantry also receives between 20 and 30 volunteers from Wal-Mart every month.
Because the Second Harvest Food Bank cannot get many canned good items to the local food pantries anymore, Devol often buys items from Wal-Mart to hand out. Recently, for example, he had to order 8,000 cans of corn and beans, well as items such as ramen noodles and peanut butter.
“All of that came from Wal-Mart, and they gave me a very good price on it,” he said.
The pantry also receives excellent support from community members who volunteer every month.
“I never make a phone call. (The volunteers) know when it is and they’re here,” he said. People need to fill out applications in order to receive food at the pantry, and Devol said the volunteers help with this, too.
At age 83, he enjoys working at the food pantry and thrift store every day, and said that he and his wife, Jane, know that their work is needed.
“We feel that it’s a need in our community,” Devol said. “We have been blessed to a certain degree. We sort of feel like it’s a way to pay something back.”
He sees nearly every day how the food pantry helps people in need, and said that it is also good for him to be working at the facility.
“We don’t want to sit in a rocking chair and deteriorate. If you use your mind and your body like the Bible says, you’ll live longer,” Devol said.
For more information on the food pantry, call Dannie Devol at (740) 974-1356.
For more information on the Second Harvest Food Bank, call Marilyn Sloan at (740) 385-6813.

By Nick Claussen, community relations coordinator
Athens County Job and Family Services
(740) 797-2523