Fighting hunger in Adams, Brown and Highland counties

More than 40 people gathered for a Local Hunger Summit on Friday, October 7th at the South Campus of Southern State Community College. Elected officials and staff members from local, state and federal governments, who were in the audience, heard from a panel of service providers and residents from Adams, Brown and Highland Counties.

Pastor Don Young from Christians Across America spoke of the need for food assistance, telling a story of an elderly couple sharing a can of dog food because they were out of food and out of money.

“There are so many families that are just one or two weeks away from being out of food,” said Chuck Aurigema from Area 937 Ministries, echoing how hunger can be hidden but still exist in local communities. “Government, community and business must come together to meet the need”

One example of how the community has responded is Hope Christian Alliance, an alliance of all of the food pantries and soup kitchens in Highland County.

“We are just trying to hold on until we get some jobs down here,” said Curtis Pegram, a founding member of the Alliance. Pegram described how the community is doing everything it can, including planting acres of land with produce to distribute to hungry families.

But it is not enough, he said.

“The food pantry is not meant to be the only source of food” for hungry families, said Pat Mawhinney, Rural Agency Representative for Freestore Foodbank. Mawhinney described increased demand and need in the area, and raised concerns about threats to federal nutrition programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formally known as Food Stamps.

Other residents shared stories of struggle in the area.

Dee Wright works for Bright Local Schools. The school is seeing more children misbehaving because of economic issues hitting home, including more children stealing food from the lunch line for hungry siblings at home. While the school tries to have programs for needy families, demand often is larger than supply.

“How do we choose which children get help?” asked Wright.

Kathy Grooms operates a Head Start program in Adams County, where she witnesses children eating on Friday afternoon. “They stuff their tummies, knowing that there will be no food” for the weekend, she said.

Julie Wise from the Highland County Community Action Program spoke of seniors who were not eating over the weekend when congregate meals were not served. Wise raised concerns about cuts to the Community Service Block Grant (CSBG), which funds programs for senior nutrition in Highland county. Cuts to CSBG would mean that fewer older Ohioans in Highland County would be able to get meals.

Rhonda Holbrook from the Adams Brown Counties Economic Opportunities spoke of a man who had asked for food assistance and admitted that he had not had the insulin that he needed to manage his diabetes for two weeks.

“This is what is happening,” stated Jennifer Howland from the Highland District hospital. She shared a story of a patient who was on chemotherapy, but was living in a trailer without running water or electricity.

These are just a few examples of the costs of hunger that we are already paying for, said Nora Nees, Director of Child and Senior Nutrition at the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks. She referred to a recent study that quantified the costs of hunger. On average, each household pays $1,548 for the costs of hunger including increased medical costs, decreased worker productivity and the cost of private charity, each year.

Lisa Tumbleson-Davis from the Adams Brown Counties Economic Opportunities spoke about the need for free tax services and application assistance for individuals in the local community. “People do not want to have to ask for help,” Tumbleson-Davis stated, but with The Ohio Benefit Bank™, Tumbleson-Davis and other community members can assist families in free tax filing and private benefits applications.

Teresa Carr from the Adams County Senior Citizen’s Council spoke about her concern for her local community, “I thought this would be a great place to raise my kids,” she stated. Carr was concerned about the number of older adults who need utility assistance through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program or LiHEAP, and the vulnerability of those programs in the federal budget. Carr also spoke of older Ohioans who were at risk of losing their homes to pay for medical bills, “they have to give up so much just to survive.”

Ralph Jennings, Brown County Commissioner thanked the audience for attending and speaking out – stating that the summit was an example of how to communicate with elected officials. Representative Danny Bubp from Ohio’s 88th House district recognized the need and challenges facing the local community, including unemployment and declining incomes. Danielle Nameth, a representative from Senator Sherrod Brown’s office was appreciative of the work of the individuals and agencies at the summit and spoke of the Senator’s support for emergency food programs, “It’s not spending, it’s an investment” stated Nameth. Also present to listen to the local community was Stephen Carraway, from Congresswoman Jean Schmidt’s office.

Will Petrik from Advocates for Ohio’s Future ended the event with several ways for participants to get involved, including signing a Joint Memorandum, participating in a Story Banking project, Ohio Speaks, or joining Advocates for Ohio’s Future, a broad based coalition of health and human services providers.

The event was previewed in the Highland County Press: