With Goal to Top Last Year, Harvest for Hunger Begins

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Ellen King first became aware of the extent of the hunger issue locally while she was a teacher in Liberty Local Schools.

The now-retired teacher recalls that her school, W.S. Guy Middle School, regularly served students breakfast and lunch. School staff wrote grants to pay for the fruits and other foods that were served to the children.

“There’s so many hungry people out there. You really don’t understand how blessed and fortunate you are until you read and you find out about how many people don’t have what you have,” she said.

Since retiring about six years ago, King has volunteered at the Second Harvest Food Bank, which Thursday kicked off Harvest for Hunger, an annual campaign among food banks in northeastern Ohio to raise money and collect food to meet spring and summer needs.

During that time, kids who normally would get free or subsidized meals at school are at home more frequently, “creating a bit more of a burden on families,” said Second Harvest Executive Director Mike Iberis at the kickoff event Thursday morning.

Contributions and food are collected by participating businesses. Contributions can also be made at participating Giant Eagle and Sparkle supermarkets by tearing off a $1, $5 or $10 donation coupon at registers though March 31. The donation coupons are scanned and the donations added to the shopper’s bill.

Donations raised locally are used to meet needs in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.

“By being here today, you’re sending a loud and clear message that hunger is unacceptable and that you’re here to do something about it,” Iberis said.

Last year’s campaign raised $323,783 and collected nearly 29,000 pounds of food.

“Our goal this year is to exceed that. Let’s beat that by a dollar. Let’s beat that by a pound,” said Diane Hogg, president of Second Harvest’s board of directors.

To kick off the effort, Walgreens donated $13,299 raised during a two-week period last fall. Giant Eagle raised $118,000 during last year’s campaign, reported Andrew Bell, store leader at the Boardman Giant Eagle. For every dollar raised, the food bank can distribute $11 worth of food.

Second Harvest provides food for approximately 150 local agencies – meal sites and food pantries – that provide emergency food help for about 15,000 people each week, Iberis reported.

“Behind statistics is always a face. There’s always a name,” he said.

A video highlighted the issues facing students and how schools are addressing the need. The story, by WFMJ evening news anchor Leslie Barrett, focused on the establishment of food pantries in local schools. The first, set up in Boardman Center Middle School about 18 months ago, has served as a model for the 10 that followed.

WFMJ/WBCB is among the other sponsors, along with The Vindicator, Cumulus Radio, and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 880.

“It shows how children at that age realize there is a need out their in their school among their peers and they’re wiling to help,” Iberis said.

“It’s been a great thing for our students,” said Burt Stellers, principal at Daw Elementary School in Wellsville, which established a pantry. Of the school’s 230 students, 70 brought back forms to participate and 20 students go through it every day.

“I’m not sure if I’ve ever been involved with something that makes me so miserable on one end” – because he sees the impact of hunger on a child – and “also makes you feel so fortunate that you’re actually helping and hopefully making a difference,” Stellers said.

Media organizations will run advertisements, public service announcements and stories through the campaign.

Christa Lamendola, WFMJ morning anchor, recalled an interview she did with an 8-year-old boy at Betty’s Angels, a homeless shelter for children in Warren. The boy told her about how he would skip school to mow lawns to earn money for water for his sibling, because the house where they were living didn’t have heat or water.

“It broke me heart,” she said. “Our job – my job – is to tell you, the community, about needs because you can’t fix something if you don’t know it’s broken.”

Businesses interested in participating in Harvest for Hunger can call Paige Tomlinson-Miller at 330 792 5522 ext. 102, or can download a registration form at the Second Harvest website.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.