Ohio food banks need help to weather perfect storm of rising need: Kristin Warzocha

CLEVELAND — Since the beginning of the pandemic, food banks across the country have been working to weather every storm that has come our way, both literally and figuratively. At the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, our hard-working staff, volunteers, and 1,000 programmatic partners across six counties have been on the front lines of the pandemic since March 2020.

We have experienced history-making supply chain disruptions, unprecedented jumps in food and fuel costs, and skyrocketing increases in the need for service in our area. We have served more than 95,000 new households during that same period, meaning these families turned to the Food Bank and our network of partners for the first time over the past two years. Our team has resorted to purchasing more food than ever before — an additional six million pounds in 2021 compared to 2019.

And so far in 2022, this has all been coupled with a 40% reduction in food making its way to our doors through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which is a longstanding federal program that connects American-grown commodities, including fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and protein items, to food banks across the country. More than 250 loads of this nutritious food, bound for Ohio food banks, have been canceled this year due to supply chain issues.

Meanwhile, with costs increasing — from rent and utilities to food and fuel — we are worried that the lines at our network of partners will only get longer. Recent data from Moody’s Analytics suggests that the average American family is paying upwards of $340 more a month on food, fuel, utilities, and housing. Ohioans working in low-paying positions and senior citizens on fixed incomes simply can’t absorb these increases in their monthly budgets.

Sadly, we know this is just the beginning of a perfect storm that has been gaining strength and will only get more powerful when the federal Public Health Emergency ends. When that happens, we will see the loss of additional Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, equivalent to 54 million meals annually in Cuyahoga County alone. SNAP provides nine times as many meals as all 200 food banks across the country. When there are decreases to SNAP benefits, food banks cannot make up for all the meals lost. This new reality is not sustainable – Ohioans will go hungry.

Food Banks need help, and there are resources available that could help us continue to meet the need for emergency food. The state of Ohio has $1.9 billion remaining in American Rescue Plan Act State Fiscal Recovery Funds and billions of dollars in its rainy-day fund.

Kristin Warzocha is president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. (Photo by Bridget Caswell)

The Ohio Association of Foodbanks, made up of Ohio’s 12 Feeding America food banks, has made a request to Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio General Assembly for $50 million in immediate emergency funding to provide much-needed food to families through the Ohio Food and Agricultural Clearance Programs. These longstanding state programs have received decades of bipartisan support because of their ability to connect locally grown foods to Ohioans in need. As we stare down this looming storm, we call on Gov. DeWine and the Ohio General Assembly to further invest in these proven programs and act urgently to help us prepare for the months ahead. We will continue to be on the front lines serving all those who turn to us for help, but if we are going to weather the storm, we need to start preparing now.

Kristin Warzocha is the president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, Northeast Ohio’s largest hunger relief organization. The Food Bank relies on community support to fulfill its mission of ensuring that everyone in our communities has the nutritious food they need every day through more than 1,000 program partners that serve hungry Northeast Ohioans in six counties.

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