[ Max Brunke | WOUB ]

Record-high food shortages hits Southeast Ohio communities

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Shelves at a regional warehouse that supplies food to struggling families throughout southeast Ohio are looking bleak.

“We have empty racks in our warehouse for the first time in years…” said Rose Frech, executive director of Southeast Ohio Foodbanks. “Food that would usually be coming through our doors, those orders are getting canceled and not getting rescheduled.”

It’s been two months since Frech began to notice the shift in the volume of food they were receiving at the Hocking Athens Perry Community Action warehouse in Logan.

They’re calling it the perfect storm: a mix of the inflation crisis, long term effects of the pandemic and lack of funding from the federal government. All of these factors combined to leave food banks scrambling for supplies, and now some facilities are forced to halt scheduled food drop-offs and drive-throughs.

“We rely very heavily on state and federal commodities to meet the needs in our local community,” Frech said. “So when state and federal commodities are done, we really take a hit because we don’t have many options to really close that gap.”

Shelves at the Southeast Ohio Foodbank warehouse in Logan are nearly empty, as the shortage is causing supplies to dwindle. [ Max Brunke | WOUB ]
The last case of canned spaghetti at the Southeast Ohio Foodbanks sits idly waiting to be used up. [ Max Brunke | WOUB ]
A Southeast Ohio Foodbank waits to be loaded up with a shipment heading to a food pantry in Athens. [ Max Brunke | WOUB ]
The Salvation Army in The Plains is supplied by donations and the Southeast Ohio Foodbank, which has been dwindling since the start of the shortage. [ Max Brunke | WOUB ]

Donations can only hold them over for so long. If these food banks are to recover, they’re going to need government intervention and funding to do so. Knowing this, the Ohio Foodbank Association is asking for an investment of $183 million.

“What we’ll do is we will prioritize that this is a collective statewide buy,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Foodbank Association. “So we will be purchasing more fruits and vegetables … boxed meals, shelf stable items, meat, dairy and eggs.” 

The OFA wants $50 million for immediate relief, going specifically toward food that can be processed and delivered immediately. The remaining $133 million would be put toward long-term investment, such as infrastructure and nonperishable food stock for future crises.

Hamler-Fugitt broke down every aspect of the crisis, and she thinks it all boils down to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“No doubt about it, it’s COVID and it’s the long lasting impact of the pandemic,” she said. “You have food shortages because a lot of our food manufacturers had to shut down because of COVID, so this is the long-lasting impact of COVID. And now what we’re dealing with is the concentration of where the product comes from. A lot of food that’s grown here is shipped overseas to be processed and then shipped back. So we now have supply chain issues.”

Frech said that eventually, everyone will know someone affected by this crisis. Beverly Shifflet, a Logan local who attends the Southeast Ohio foodbank warehouse every Thursday to pick up food for herself and others who don’t have the means of getting there, thinks the ones most affected will be seniors.

“It will hurt them. It will. Especially when you’re retired and you’re on a fixed income and the prices are going up but your income isn’t,” she said.

But the fact is that anybody could suddenly find themselves in need of a little help, Frech said.

“I think that all of us are probably much closer to being in that food line out there than we would like to think,” she said. “So I remind myself that with just a couple bad turns of luck it could be myself or my family who needs to get in the line somewhere and to access emergency food to feed my family.”