Farmers Provide Local Solution to Hunger Crisis

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – With vaccinations against the coronavirus started in Ohio, Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley is nearing the end of a stressful period, said its director Mike Iberis Tuesday.

But even with the end in sight, there’s still work to be done feeding the hungry in the area. This year has been a year like no other, leading to demand never before seen. To help the food bank through, the Mahoning County and Columbiana County farm bureaus stopped by to give the food bank a hand , donating 5,000 pounds of meat from local farmers. 

Jenifer Pemberton, president of the Mahoning County Farm Bureau Board, said the meat-processing pipeline is still backed up. She went to the Pickaway Correctional Institution in Orient and waited a couple months to get on their schedule.

“Once we got on the schedule, it only takes three to four weeks get the meat processed and up here,” Pemberton said.

The delivery will lead to 5,000 meals, enough to feed roughly 1,600 families in the Mahoning Valley. Iberis said the shipment came at the right time since many visitors to the food pantries and kitchens supplied by the food bank are depressed over losing their jobs or COVID-19. He said many of the visitors tend to come from the retail and food service industries.

Members of the farm bureaus in Mahoning and Columbiana counties donated a combined 5,000 pounds of meat to Second Harvest Food Bank.

“It just seems like the perfect storm that they’re involved in,” Iberis said. “A donation like this shows that somebody cares. And the people that are giving this, it shows they care. And the people that are providing for the other pantries we serve, they care for their community.”

It’s the second shipment received from the Farm Bureau this year. Over the summer, the food bank received beef, poultry and pork to assist during its food distributions at area schools.

A group composed of Nationwide Insurance, Daprile Insurance Group, the Columbiana County Farm Bureau and the Ohio Beef Council provided a $5,000 grant to help pay farmers for the products. The Mahoning County Farm Bureau raised an additional $6,000 since August to help pay the farmers.

“We did not want to go to the farmers and say, ‘Could you give to us?’ We didn’t want to [say that] to anybody for that matter,” said Nick Kennedy organizational director for the Mahoning and Columbiana County Farm Bureau. “We wanted to pay the freight and not worry about that.”

The food bank distributed a record 14.5 million pounds of food from January through November. Iberis said the food bank could finish the year distributing around 16 million pounds of food, a 40% increase compared to 2019.

The food bank staff has worked six or seven days a week since the start of the pandemic. Even with the help of the Ohio Army National Guard, the food bank has operated day and night to work with the pantries and distribute food.

“This staff has done a yeoman’s job. An incredible job,” Iberis said. “I can’t say enough for the dedication of our staff here at the food bank.”

Pictured: Nick Kennedy, director of the Mahoning and Columbiana County Farm Bureau; Mike Iberis, director of Second Harvest Food Bank; and Jennifer Pemberton, president of Mahoning County Farm Bureau’s board of director.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.