With the worsening coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Ohio, poverty- and hunger-related issues will only get worse, with people across the state losing their jobs.
In Athens County, the local food pantries and the regional food bank are beginning to see an increase in demand, and local non-profits and government agencies as well as private businesses alike are stepping up to the plate to help people out.
At the Nelsonville Food Cupboard on Chestnut Street in Nelsonville, the food pantry handed out 120 boxed lunches Tuesday provided by Avalanche Pizza along with a special treat: comic books for kids, provided by local residents Sandy Plunkett and Rusty Rittenhouse (Gordon Food Service, Sean Kiser, Shagbark Seed & Mill and RL Valley Ranch also contributed to the lunch).
Food Cupboard Director Margaret Sheskey said with the impact of the coronavirus on local communities growing steadily everyday, she expects the community’s need for food from the Food Cupboard (which typically provides boxes of food to families once a month) to increase in the coming months.
“The need’s been steady but I have noticed there are people coming back for a second time (in a month),” Sheskey said. “Because it’s limited to once a month, if someone has a real emergency and desperately needs it, they can come back and we’ll give them a smaller distribution, so we’ve seen more people like that recently.”
A steady stream of people came through the Food Cupboard Tuesday, including a large number of grandparents who were caring for grandchildren. The children especially were happy to see the comic books.
Sheskey said she and other food pantries are concerned about the many elderly people in the community who aren’t showing up to food distributions now because of their concern about the spread of the coronavirus.
Claire Gysegem, public relations manager with Hocking Athens Perry Community Action (HAPCAP), said Wednesday that her agency is aware of those concerns and is working on a solution, but hasn’t arrived at anything concrete yet.
“They (elderly residents) may have had a relative who was working but now has been laid off, or maybe they can’t afford gas money to run errands; they may have had transportation to a senior center that maybe now can’t transport people; there are a lot of factors involved with that,” she said.
She noted that HAPCAP has a list online of all the food pantries operating in the region served by HAPCAP, which can be found at this link. Those food pantries are also in need of donations and volunteers in some cases; there’s a list of needed items you can find here.
Gysegem recommended that people reach out to those food pantries directly to see how they can help.
Meanwhile, the Southeast Ohio Foodbank, run by HAPCAP, kicked things into high gear recently with several special food-box distribution events in Athens and Perry counties. Andrew Mayle, food and nutrition division director for HAPCAP, said that about 400 people turned out to the special food distribution event at the Athens County Fairgrounds last Thursday, during which families received enough food to hopefully get them through the next week or two.
“If things play out the way they have been the last couple weeks here, I think the need to distribute food to this region will increase,” Mayle said.
In other news, the Athens County Food Pantry is continuing to distribute boxes of food each week from the Athens County Job and Family Services building, despite that building being closed due to the coronavirus. Volunteers have been working to serve food through a window in the ACJFS building near Chauncey, and on the front porch.
That pantry has raised more than $650,000 through online and mail-in donations after Joe Burrow’s Heisman speech last year, the Food Pantry announced in a video last week. So far, the Food Pantry has seen an increase in demand of more than 28 percent, and reported in the video that food purchases are up 50 percent thanks to the donations.
“We’re serving about a hundred more families a month,” the video reported, up to about 500 families now.
The Food Pantry is also working on adding additional commercial refrigerator and freezer equipment in order to provide more frozen meat and other commodities to families.
It’s also continuing community conversations about how best to serve Athens County, with about 20 percent of Athens County’s total population (about 12,000 people) being food-insecure.
Back at the Nelsonville Food Cupbard, Director Sheskey said her pantry is always in need of more donations. People can send checks to the Nelsonville Food Cupboard at 421 Chestnut St., Nelsonville, OH 45764.
You can see an article here about how the Ohio Army National Guard has been helping with HAPCAP food distributions in area counties.