Why 3,000 Daytonians stood in the Salem Mall parking lot in 90 degrees

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Cox Media Group Ohio has partnered with The Dayton Foodbank to immediately distribute food in the hardest-hit communities impacted by the tornado destruction.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

It was hot, so hot that I was too hot — and I like to be hot.

The temperature hovered around 90 degrees, but somehow it felt hotter as the heat bounced up from blacktop.

All that oppressive heat and humidity didn’t keep the people — an estimated 2,ooo to 3,000 of them — away from the food and supply distribution effort set up in the parking lots of the long-gone Salem Mall in Trotwood.

The giveaway on June 27, a month after 15 tornadoes ripped through the Dayton area, was the last and by far the largest of eight set up as part of a partnership between the Foodbank and Cox Media Group Ohio, owner of this newspaper, Dayton.com, WHIO-TV, WHIO Radio, K99.1FM and several other products and brands.

This event was part of a Cox effort that raised nearly $400,000 for the FoodBank, the Dayton Chapter of the American Red Cross and the Dayton Foundation’s Disaster Relief Fund. Money came from readers, viewers and listeners. The James M. Cox Foundation kicked in $120,000.

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The seemingly never-ending line of grannies and grandpas with canes or walkers, mothers pushing strollers and other Dayton-area residents in need started two hours before the giveaway’s start time, Emily Broughton, Cox Ohio communications manager, told me.

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It ended two hours after it was scheduled to end.

Four people passed out from the heat while they waited for apples, cookies, frozen meat, toilet paper, bananas, pasta, orange juice, produce and other items. The most fragile sat in their cars as volunteers collected food for them.

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Emily told me more than 700 households were registered before the volunteers registering people had to leave.

The FoodBank emptied three trucks of food on top of what was supplied by three local churches set to help.

I, like the other Cox volunteers, worked as quickly as I could to distribute the supplies. We had bell peppers and zucchini at our station.

The worst of the Memorial Day tornadoes, an E-F4 monster, hit parts of Trotwood, Harrison Twp. and north Dayton.

And it hit those communities hard.

More than 2,200 structures in Montgomery County alone were either destroyed or severely damaged in the Memorial Day tornadoes, according to a report the county recently released. 

Most of those damaged structures were within a few miles of the Salem Mall parking lot where we worked.

According to the report, 1,144 Trotwood structures — mainly homes — were left unusable. The tornado destroyed or caused major damage to 774 residential and commercial structures in Harrison Twp.

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But there was a need long before the tornadoes hit.

More than 93,200 of the 120,040 people struggling with food insecurity that the Foodbank served before the tornadoes live in Montgomery County, the nonprofit’s statistics say.

More than 25 percent of Trotwood resident live in poverty, according to a United States Census estimate. The median household income is $32,977.

The median household income for the state of Ohio is $52,407, and the poverty rate is 14 percent.

It is hard to say who in the crowd was in need due to the tornadoes or simply in need.

At the end of the day, what does it matter?

A lot of people were in need before the tornadoes hit. Even more are in need now.

Somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 of those people waited in the sweltering heat in the old Salem Mall parking lot last week.

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