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.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Life after prison can be very challenging

Click here to read about Dale, an Athens County resident adjusting to life after prison. It can be very difficult for ex-offenders to transition back into society, as many owe large sums of money in court costs and fines, many do not have their driver's licenses, many are unable to work in certain fields because of their felony convictions, and many face numerous other problems. Dale is facing several significant obstacles, but he is happy and is doing his best to live a normal life.

Monday, May 10, 2010

College degrees will open new doors for Athens County couple

Click here to read about Nickie and Jerrod, an Athens County couple with one son. State budget cuts cost Jerrod his job, so now Nickie and Jerrod are both going to college so that they can find secure jobs that they enjoy. They go to school and work, and they also receive some assistance to help them get by. They know that they won't need the help for long, though, and that soon they will be starting new careers.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Transportation is a major barrier for many in southeast Ohio who are looking for work

Emily Ax works with a jobs program at the Good Works Shelter in Athens, where she helps area residents receive job training and find work. She attended the April 21 Job Fair in Athens and said that it was a good opportunity for area residents to make face-to-face contacts with local employers. She was a little disappointed that a few of the employers who planned to be there could not attend, but overall she was pleased with the event.

In her job at the homeless shelter, she sees several challenges for people trying to find work in southeast Ohio, and she explained that transportation is a major barrier for many people.

“Transportation is always an issue,” she said. Many people have the skills and training needed to work in different jobs, but the jobs in their fields are not available here or they do not have reliable transportation to get to work every day.

“I am grateful that there is a small transit system in Athens,” Ax said, adding that it is a big plus that the bus system travels to The Plains as well. If the public transportation system could ever be expanded in Athens County, it would be very helpful for many people, she said.

People in southeast Ohio will take jobs outside of their main skills or the fields they want to work in, simply because they need the work and the pay, Ax said. If they can find work in their fields, though, it is very uplifting for them.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

More comments from area residents at the recent Job Fair in Athens

Christian Thomas works part-time in Athens County and is looking for full-time work. He has experience in many different fields and hopes that someone will give him a chance to get started on a career.

“To me, a job is different from a career,” Thomas said. A job is something you do for a while to pay the bills, while a career is working for a long time in one field that you enjoy, Thomas said. He talked to representatives from several different companies at the job fair, and is open to working in many different types of jobs. He is a quick learner, and hopes to find steady work and a new career that he enjoys.

“I like helping people,” Thomas said. While it is often a struggle to pay all of his expenses, Thomas said he is not discouraged that that money is tight right now. He expects to have to overcome challenges in life and is hopeful that he will be able to secure a full-time job and a steady income soon.

Justin Shields of Athens earned a degree in information technology in 2009 and has not been able to find work in that field yet. In the meantime, he has been working on his parent’s farm, but he wants to find a job soon working with computers.

“I need to start paying off my student loans,” Shields said. He had not been to a job fair before, and said it was helpful to be able to talk to the representatives from different companies at the Athens event.

He is hoping to find a job where he can use his creativity and computer skills, and said that he knows that he can be an asset to any company that hires him. He would also like to do consulting work for businesses and show them how they can use their computers more efficiently in order to save time and money.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Additional comments from area residents at the April 21 Job Fair held in Athens

Eric Heck of Athens has worked for several years for a local company, and enjoys the job. His company has been hurt by the country’s economic downturn, though, and has had to reduce its costs in the last few years. Because of the company’s need to cut back, Heck was laid off for a few months beginning in December 2008 and then was laid off again in December 2009.

“It is discouraging,” Heck said. He worked for the U.S. Census Bureau for a few weeks in 2009 and will be working for the U.S. Census Bureau again this summer. After that, he is hoping to get called back to his original job, but he does not know if that will happen or not. He is trying to find steady, full-time work, and turned in a few resumes and applications to companies represented at the Job Fair, but he has not been able to find a permanent, full-time job yet. He is concerned about his job prospects, but is hopeful he will be working full-time again soon.

Meigs County resident Lora Langdon worked in home health care for 10 years, but had to stop working in that field because of an injury. She went back to school and earned a degree to work as a medical office assistant, but has not found job in that field yet.

While she is looking for a full-time job, she is working a service industry job in order to help pay the bills. Langdon needs a full-time position, though, where she can earn more money. If she can’t find work as a medical office assistant, she will consider going back to work in home health care in spite of her injury, simply because she needs the work and there are jobs available in this field. She said she was happy to be able to talk to a few employers at the job fair, and added that she also picked up a few job applications for one of her relatives.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Job Fair brings in more than 500 people looking for work

More than 500 people attended the Area 14 One Stop Job, Career and Information Fair in Athens on April 21, and several of the job seekers talked about how the country’s economic problems have hurt their job prospects.

Robert Boggs of Athens explained that he currently works in manufacturing, but the work is only part-time and the hours and pay vary greatly. Business has been slow lately for the company he works for, so his hours and pay have been reduced.

“The economy is down,” Boggs said. He would like to work full-time in a factory, but there aren't many of those jobs in the region. He applied for a few jobs with factories at the Job Fair, and said he was pleased with the different employers he was able to visit. Boggs explained that he does not want to work in a service industry job that deals with the public, but he has applied for a few of these jobs recently because he needs the work.

“I’d rather just put my head down and work all day making things,” Boggs said. It has been discouraging to not be able to find a full-time job, and it has been hard on him financially, too.

“It’s pretty rough,” Boggs said. “I’m about ready to move back to the city.” He used to live and work in Chicago, but moved to Athens to help take care of a sick relative. He likes living here, but will have to move soon if he can’t find steady work.

Boggs is just one of many people at the Job Fair who talked about how they lost their jobs because of layoffs, health problems or other reasons, or how they have had trouble finding work after graduating from high school or college. Over the next week, we will post additional comments from several of these people.

Sarah Williams represented one employer at the Job Fair, as she worked in the booth for Bellisio Foods of Jackson. Bellisio Foods is currently hiring for several different positions working in the company’s plant, and Williams said she talked with many different people who were looking for work at the job fair. She was pleased that she was able to talk to so many potential employees, and said the Athens job fair is a very good event.

“It is so organized,” Johnson said.

Laurel Lindamood and Lindsay Mayle represented Diagnostic Hybrids, Inc., of Athens at the Job Fair, and they also said it was a good opportunity to talk to a large number of potential employees. At the 2009 job fair, their company had open positions that they were able to talk to area residents about, but this year they did not have any open positions. Lindamood and Mayle did talk to several people who are interested in working for the company when positions do come open, and they were able to explain more about the work the company does. They also told people to watch their Web site, http://www.dhiusa.com/about_us/careers/ for information on job openings and how to apply.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Earning her GED, planning for college and building a better life for her daughter

Click here to read about Erica, an Athens County resident who recently earned her GED and is now planning for college and for a career. She is a single mother who has a great attitude and is working hard to build a better life for her daughter.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Census forms to be sent out in March

All U.S. residents should receive their 2010 U.S. Census forms in March. In Athens County, some residents in the Glouster and Coolville areas will receive their forms in the first week of March, while the rest of the county residents will receive theirs in mid-March. Also in March, the U.S. Census Bureau will be setting up locations in Athens County where people can go to ask questions about the Census and receive additional forms. For more information on these locations, the forms all U.S. residents should receive or the importance of the upcoming U.S. Census count, click here. To log onto the U.S. Census Bureau's Web site for information on the 2010 Census Count, click here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Columnist looks at how the national recession is affecting the poor

New York Times Columnist Bob Herbert wrote an outstanding column recently that points out that while politicians and the national media focus on how the national recession is affecting the upper and middle classes, the poorest Americans are the ones who have been hit hardest. Click here to read the column.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Columnist looks at how the poor are viewed in America

Syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr., wrote an outstanding column recently discussing issues such as why no one speaks out for the poor and how people living in poverty are often powerless and misunderstood. Click here to read the column on the Miami Herald Web site.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Census Road Tour Stops in Athens County

The 2010 Census Road Tour stopped in Athens County recently to promote the April 1 U.S. Census Count and to provide information for people who are interested in working for the U.S. Census Bureau. The Road Tour is traveling around the country spreading the message about how important it is to be counted and how filling out your Census form helps your local community.

In Athens County, the Road Tour stopped at Ohio University and Hocking College on Tuesday, Jan. 19.

Click here to read an article from The Athens NEWS about the Census Road Tour.
Click here to read the Athens MidDay article and watch one interview about the Census Road Tour. (Click on the link on the right side of the Athens MidDay page, or scroll down to see the article).

Click here to read the news release about the event.