Food Organizations Feed the Valley During the Holidays

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Despite demands being higher than the supply, local organizations are ensuring members of the Mahoning Valley are given the opportunity to enjoy meals this holiday season.

Although the number of those needing food bank services has increased post-pandemic, OhioFoodbanks.org says food banks have experienced a 64% decline in USDA foods since 2021 and have had 275 loads of food canceled within a six-month span.

Additionally, the organization says food bank meal purchasing costs are up an average of $1.04 per pound, as opposed to $0.42 a pound a year ago. Pressure has increased from rising fuels costs, supply chain disruptions, global conflicts and inflation.

Caitlin White, executive director at the Warren Family Mission, says nearly 1,200 Trumbull County deliveries were set for the mission’s Nov. 23 annual Thanksgiving dinner event.

“Some people have no one for the holidays. So it is nice for them just to be able to come in, because we welcome everyone,” says White.

The Warren Family Mission has been putting on Thanksgiving holiday events for 24 years, says White, but over the years a lot has changed.

“We do a lot more meals now than we did 10, 15 years ago,” she said. “We might have had 600 or 700 people we provided meals for — now we’re doing on average about 2,500 meals.”

White says the supplies for the event are based on monetary and food donations .

The last couple years created some additional challenges, forcing all food orders to be carried out through to-go orders.

“This year this is going to be our first Thanksgiving meal in-person again since the last two years, because of COVID,” says White. “We are just restarting this back up again.”

The Warren Family Mission is now working on Christmas donations.

“Within November and December, we are doing 5,000 meals just for the holidays,” says White.

“Right now, especially with inflation, we have seen our give-away events – we are distributing items to people, we have coat drives and book bag drives – where we have an extra 200 people show up,” she says. “The need is now greater this year than ever before.”

John Muckridge III, president and CEO of the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley, says his organization has 186 beds in the shelter. Those staying receive breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with others who come to the mission for meals.

“We have Thanksgiving meals and Christmas meals – usually they are an all day event,” Muckridge says. “People that stay here can come in and eat, people that don’t stay here but need food – they can come into the new facility and right into the dining hall to grab a meal.”

While offering meals to those in need during the holidays is important, Muckridge says it’s vital to remember the importance of these services year round.

“It is just as important any other day of the year,” he says. “We are happy with what the Lord is doing here and that same thing 365 days a year. It is what the Lord calls us to do.”

The new rescue mission facility provides greater capacity. Even so, Muckridge says the women and family department is consistently full.

“In our women and family department – specifically families – we have seen an increase in families experiencing homelessness,” he says. “It has increased over the years and I expect it is going to continue to increase.”

In his more than 10 years with the mission, Muckridge say he feels blessed to be able to meet the growing needs of those in the valley, especially as other challenges, such as inflation, arise.

“This is what the mission has been doing since 1893,” he says.

Increased demand for food is also visible from a supplier’s perspective.

Mike Iberis says Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley supports 150 pantries and city sites thoughout the holidays, which provide food to 1,300 people a week in Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

The food bank has been operating for 30 years in the Mahoning Valley, says Iberis, and for the past 22 years, he has been the executive director.

“We have seen an increase [in need] since inflation,” he says. “The past year, we have seen about a 30% increase in the requests for our pantries and our feeding sights.”

Iberis says most of that 30% increase has been made up of senior citizens.

“What they’re telling us is inflation has taken such a bite out of their disposable income, that they just don’t have the money left at the end of the month to continue to by the food that they bought a year ago before the inflation started taking over,” he says.

Additionally, Iberis says choices at the grocery stores have become more limited for many people than they were a year ago.

“Many of our donors are telling us when they go to the grocery store, they see less quantity on the shelf and fewer choices,” he says.

In spirit of the holidays, the Warren Family Mission is hosting its Christmas Toy Distribution Dec. 16 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and its Free Annual Christmas Dinner on Dec. 23 from noon to 3 p.m.

The Rescue Mission encourages Christmas trees to be decorated at local churches, work, schools and homes with it paper “Giving Tree” ornaments. This raises money to provide meals for those in need. Each $2.47 donated provides one meal.

Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.