Friday, September 4, 2009

Area residents line up for produce giveaway

When local volunteers began giving boxes and bags full of produce away at the Athens County Fairgrounds on Thursday, Aug. 27, the line of cars was at least 60 long.
“I couldn’t see where it ended,” said the Rev. Jim Jennings, associate pastor at Central Avenue United Methodist Church in Athens and one of the volunteers who helped during the day. “For the first hour, it was non-stop cars.”
The Friends and Neighbors Community Food Center in Lottridge organized the program after receiving the surplus produce from the United State Department of Agriculture. The organization received 26,620 pounds of produce worth a total value of nearly $44,000.
The volunteers gave food to 412 families at the fairgrounds, and then took the extra food to a food center in Little Hocking where they served an additional 100 families. When the giveaway started in Little Hocking at 5 p.m., 70 families were already waiting in line.
“It’s really nice that they are doing this,” one woman said after having bags and boxes of produce loaded into her car at the Athens County Fairgrounds. All families who met certain income guidelines were eligible to receive the produce, no matter when they had last had visited a food pantry.
Tomatoes, cucumbers, apples, corn, green peppers, green beans, pears and potatoes were all included in the giveaway, and each person received a generous quantity of the items. The bags of corn that were handed out, for example, each had 12 ears in them.
“I don’t get to buy all of this at the store,” one woman explained as she drove through the line with another family also in the car. Produce items can be very expensive, so while she would like to buy them for her daughter, she usually cannot.
“I like that I’m able to get this for my daughter, it helps her grow,” she said.
“It helps a million,” added another woman in her car.
Chrissy, who lives near Shade, was in another two-family car, and was also very thankful for the food items.
“This will last us a month or two,” she said. She was planning to freeze and refrigerate some of the produce items while also making meals ahead of time and then freezing those meals, too.
She is unable to work because of a disability, so her income is limited and things are very tough for her family of four. She has also been informed that even though prices are going up, she won’t receive any increase in her disability pay for at least another two years.
“We’re making it by the skin of our teeth,” Chrissy said. She visits the Friends and Neighbors Community Food Center twice a month for food and supplies, and finds ways to get food, clothing and other items at low prices in the community. For school supplies for her children, for example, she traveled to Gallipolis where she could receive the items she needed for not much money.
Last month, though, she was only able to go to the Friends and Neighbors Community Food Center once because she could not afford the gas to drive out a second time.

Lisa Roberts, director of the Friends and Neighbors Community Food Center, said that her facility is seeing more and more people needing help.
“It is scary we see so many new people. It has just grown and grown,” Roberts said. The number of senior citizens who need food and other items has increased especially rapidly, she added.
“So many senior citizens cannot afford to buy food because they have to buy their medicine instead,” Roberts said. “They’re going hungry because they can’t afford their medicine.”
Jennings explained that the members of his church have been volunteering at the Lottridge center for the last two years. And during that time, Jennings and the other volunteers have seen the need for help at the center go up as the economy has worsened.
“It has increased this summer,” Jennings said. “There are always new people.”
Many people are suddenly out of work or facing financial problems for other reasons, and now find themselves needing help from organizations such as Friends and Neighbors.
“Even in our (church) office, the calls for help have increased,” Jennings said. The Central Avenue United Methodist Church used to receive an average of one call per week for help, and now the church receives two or three per week. Usually the calls are from people looking for financial help to pay their utility bills or rent.
His church members also volunteer at the Kilvert Community Center, and Jennings said he also sees a great need there for assistance for people living in poverty.


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