Trends at food assistance programs in Glouster indicate food insecurity is on the rise

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GLOUSTER, Ohio (WOUB/Report for America) — Standing by pallets of peanut butter jars and loaves of sandwich bread, Becky Handa did a quick count of her remaining supplies.

“We are about 70% out already,” she said.

It was only 10:15 a.m. — a full 45 minutes before the weekly PB&J distribution outside Trimble Middle-Elementary School was scheduled to start — and she’d already given away most of what she’d brought.

Handa is a school outreach caseworker with Athens County Children Services. The PB&J program takes place every summer to help families feed kids while school is out.

Giving out all the food at a distribution isn’t unusual, Handa said. What’s new this year is the speed with which it goes.

Handa regularly finds the parking lot full of cars when she arrives. Families in need of assistance come over an hour early to make sure they get something to bring home. By the time the event officially starts, there’s seldom any food left.

A sign for the town of Glouster mounted on stone and mortar pillar by the road
Glouster is the largest town in the Trimble school district. Trimble Middle-Elementary School is a few minutes away in Jacksonville. [WOUB]
The uptick in demand is part of a broader trend. The end of COVID-era SNAP allotments, coupled with inflation and dwindling federal food assistance, has meant more families can’t afford the food they need.

State food assistance did get a moderate bump in funding recently in Ohio’s biennial budget, which will help food banks offset the increase in food prices. However, that funding is well below what food banks asked for and unlikely to have a major impact in the short term.

The Glouster Public Library is just down the road from Trimble Middle-Elementary School. Tessa Evanosky runs a school lunch program there every afternoon.

“I think it’s more than doubled,” she said, referring to how many kids typically attend.

Evanosky hosts the event in the library meeting room. She says it’s not uncommon for her to have between 20 and 25 kids at once.

Evanosky makes sure the kids and their parents see her taking food home herself. She said that helps reduce stigma.

“I think there’s a lot of shame in food insecurity, so I try to make lunch just a really fun hour of togetherness and community,” said Evanosky.

While state food assistance funding is locked in for the next two years, funding from the federal government is up in the air.

A significant portion of federal food assistance for the next several years will be determined in the upcoming 2023 farm bill. That package of legislation has a major impact on SNAP and other food assistance programs.

The bill is due to pass by the end of September, when the current farm bill expires.

Advocates say greater food access for low-income families could help relieve some of the pressure local food programs are currently experiencing.

In the meantime, members of the Trimble/Glouster community are working together to manage the situation.

“Families are supporting families in this community,” said Handa. “I’ve had somebody come and pick up (food) for an entire street of kids that were not able to make it out.”