Exclusive: Tony Hall to lead new fight against hunger in Dayton

A leading warrior in the fight against hunger is coming home.

Tony Hall intends to personally lead the fight against hunger in Dayton, the retired congressman and former U.S. ambassador told the Dayton Daily News and WHIO-TV Thursday.

A globally recognized authority on hunger, he intends to open an office and hire staff dedicated to strengthening existing efforts to combat hunger and food insecurity in the Dayton area, he said.

“We need more collaboration between all of us,” Hall said in an interview. “We need everybody involved. This issue belongs not just to food banks … this belongs to corporations. This belongs to everyone.”

Hall said he was inspired by this newspaper's coverage that reported research that found Dayton was the "fourth hungriest" city in America, in terms of food hardship. Now based in Washington, D.C., Hall said he commissioned his own research that validated that finding.

The news story was based on local reaction to a 2013 report from the Food Research and Action Center.

Hall, a former 23-year congressman representing the Dayton area, also served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, among many other political and diplomatic roles.

‘Joining in the fight’

Pam Long, Dayton-based regional director of the Cincinnati archdiocese Catholic Social Action Office, was glad to hear of Hall's plans.

“We would welcome people joining in the fight, especially Tony Hall,” Long said.

She said a more recent FRAC analysis puts Dayton ninth in the nation in food hardship. But the problem persists.

“It is something that needs to be addressed in our community because people are hungry, and we are called by our faith … to feed the hungry,” she said.

In preparation of Pope Francis' upcoming visit to the United States, the archdiocese is asking parishes in its 19-county coverage area to track and report how much food they collect for area pantries and agencies. The archdiocese — which has more than 454,000 parishioners in southwest Ohio — has also gathered more than 6,000 letters to Congress asking that the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 be reauthorized.

The act — which authorizes federal child nutrition programs, including school meals — expires at the end of September.

Michelle Riley, chief executive of the Dayton-based Foodbank — an umbrella organization that distributes food to pantries in Montgomery, Greene and Preble counties — said Hall's involvement is "very good news for us."

Riley said one reason people may be unaware of local hunger is the relative absence of homeless people, compared to similarly sized metropolitan areas. Dayton does a “tremendous job” housing the homeless, she said.

“As a result, residents may think we’re doing much better than we really are,” she said.

Also: Food prices are up 10.5 percent since 2010, even as the area’s median income — about $46,214 in 2008 — fell to $42,794 in 2013, Riley said.

“It’s down $4,000 basically,” she said.

Hall's announcement comes as a national report shows that in Ohio, the problem is acute. The Buckeye state ranks third in the nation for families forced to eat less, because they didn't have money for food, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study released Wednesday.

The report said 7.5 percent of Ohio households experienced “very low food security” from 2012 to 2014.

Nationally, the estimated percentage of U.S. households that were “food insecure” — defined as homes lacking adequate healthy food — remained basically unchanged from 2013 to 2014.

Food insecurity was down from a high of 14.9 percent in 2011, said the report, “Household Food Security in the United States in 2014.”

Last year, by far most homes — 86 percent — were food secure. But the remaining 14 percent, which the report put at 17.4 million households, were “food insecure.”

“Food-insecure households (those with low and very low food security) had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources,” the report said.