500 Families Drive Up for Second Harvest Food Giveaway

STRUTHERS – With the help of a dozen National Guardsmen, Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley gave away food to 525 families whose struggles have been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The drive-thru event Friday at Struthers High Schoolwas for families with children eligible for free or reduced-price lunches in the Struthers School District.

Before the giveaway even started at noon, a line of dozens of cars snaked through the school’s parking lots.

The last car went through around 3 p.m. The food bank expected about 500 families, but always brings extra supplies. The estimate was just shy but all families were served, said Michael Iberis, executive director of Second Harvest.

Capt. Lauren Meyer, commander of the company of Guardsmen handling the giveaway, said seeing the people they are serving has made the crisis more real for the soldiers.

The Guardsmen had been working all week at the food bank’s warehouse, unloading shipments and then sorting and packaging the food.

“Getting out of the food bank and being able to see the actual people in need has changed their perspective,” Meyer said. “They are realizing how [the pandemic] is impacting families with no food, because their cupboards are bare. They are thanking us and crying. They’re so grateful, and it really humbles us. We are so glad to be helping.”

Capt. Meyer, of Akron, said the Guardsmen hail from throughout northeastern Ohio and train out of the Youngstown Armory.

Ohio National Guardsmen based out of the Youngstown Armory assist in a food giveaway at Struthers High School.

A second food giveaway for families with children eligible for reduced-price or free lunches in the McDonald School District began shortly after the Struthers event ended. The food bank estimated 120 families would show up for it.

As the cars pulled up to the Struthers giveaway area, Guardsmen put fresh milk, fresh eggs, frozen liquid eggs, chicken strips, fresh apples, apple slices and fresh cabbage into the trunks of the vehicles.

With schools closed and many losing their jobs because of the state-mandated shutdown of nonessential businesses, the demand for food assistance has sharply risen in the Mahoning Valley.

“Overall, demand is up about 30%,” said Kim Brock, agency relations and programs manager for Second Harvest. “Some of our pantries have seen triple the number of families coming to them for food assistance.”
Becky Page, director of development for Second Harvest, was pleased with the response of local people and businesses in the crisis.

“The community has been tremendous,” Page said. “We’ve had financial supporters, food donors, and individuals and companies and foundations calling us to ask how they can help or provide funds.”

About 70% of students in the Struthers district are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, according to superintendent Pete Pirone. All Struthers school buildings have food pantries for students, he noted. 

The Struthers food giveaway came together this week after Second Harvest’s Iberis called Struthers Mayor Catherine Cercone Miller to ask about setting up a location, the superintendent said.

Struthers’ school cafeterias have been preparing weekly food giveaways for the families of students since Gov. Mike DeWine ordered all schools to close on March 17. Each package from the cafeteria includes breakfast and lunch for a week. 

For the food giveaway at the high school, families of district students were robocalled to let them know where and when it would take place.

Pirone said education is continuing during the shutdown as well. “Students in grades 3 through 12 brought home their Chromebooks, and for those who don’t have Internet service, we gave out 100 Wi-Fi hotspots,” he said. All Struthers students in grades 3 through 12 get a Chromebook, Pirone said, with those in younger grades working on paper.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.