Day by Day: Food bank turns 40 as local need intensifies
Rearranging food containers to make room in a packed-full fridge is a delicious plight not everyone has.
Matt Habash, president and CEO of Mid-Ohio Food Collective, tells a story about a mother who came to the organization's food pantry with her 14-year-old daughter.
When the girl was offered a piece of fresh fruit, she replied, "It's not my day to eat," Habash said.
"She explained ... that her family was taking turns eating in order to make the food stretch throughout the week, even though her father worked a full- and a part-time job, while her mother cared for their three children and grandparents," he said.
Situations like this are why, 40 years ago, the idea of the food pantry began. It grew from a small pantry in the basement of a church into Operation Feed Foodbank.
Forty years later, the Mid-Ohio Food Collective, 3960 Brookham Drive, Grove City, is celebrating its anniversary.
"In our first year, we distributed 205,200 pounds of food. In 1986, Operation Feed Foodbank moved to a larger warehouse on West Mound Street and became Mid-Ohio Foodbank," Habash said. "That year, we distributed 9.5 million pounds of food.
"Today, the food bank is located in our 204,000-square-foot, Gold-LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified facility in Grove City and serves as the anchor asset of the Mid-Ohio Food Collective."
Mid-Ohio Farm on the Hilltop, Mid-Ohio Kitchen, Mid-Ohio Farmacy and Mid-Ohio Markets emerged from a brand refresh that began in January.
"Over the decades, we've learned that hunger goes beyond the dinner plate -- a car breaking down, losing a job, combating racism, finding affordable housing, or earning a decent wage," the organization's website says. "The Mid-Ohio Food Collective is about rolling our sleeves and meeting our neighbors where they are."
More than half of the food it distributes is fresh. The food bank doles out more than 75 million pounds of food a year -- enough for at least 155,000 meals every day.
"Especially with the current pandemic, we have people who are in need of food more often, and we have customers who are coming to us for the very first time," Habash said. "From March to June, we measured a 30% increase in food distribution compared to the same time period last year."
The collective believes in food as health. When reducing food insecurity, it effectively is creating healthier communities. Healthier people mean better health outcomes while helping to lessen health-care costs.
"Food matters; nutritious food matters more," Habash said.
Not all customers come through a food pantry. They may come through a referral from their physician or while attending Columbus State Community College. Habash said the collective is thankful for the donors, volunteers and advocates who support its work.
"Volunteers are vital to our mission," he said. "The work we do would not be possible without them."
As it transitions from having the National Guard on-site, the collective will need neighbors from the community more than ever to aid in continuing its mission and serving customers during this time of great need. Soon, 734 volunteer slots will need to be filled each week. All precautions are being taken with temperature checks, sanitizing, distancing and masks, and volunteers may work alongside others with whom they already have close contact.
"Whether talking about (the) 14-year-old, or the senior living in isolation making choices about paying for her medicine or paying for food, or the veteran who is so proud ... and ashamed to ask for food assistance that he volunteers at a local food pantry, these stories really speak to the resiliency of our families and the commitment they have -- like the rest of us -- to make sure we have food on the tables for our families," Habash said.
Before the pandemic, the collective's research showed the majority of the families it served included an employed person. COVID-19 greatly disrupted this trend. Now, so many families find themselves having to make ends meet during these confusing and unsettling times.
To learn how to help or to find help, go to midohiofoodbank.org or call 614-277-3663.
Local author Liz Thompson writes the Day by Day column for ThisWeek Community News. Contact her at email@example.com.