Ohio recently saw a sharp increase in the number of adults who sometimes or often do not have enough to eat, which comes at a precarious time when people are predicting a dark economic winter.
In late October and early November, about 1.13 million Ohio adults, or 1 in 7 above age 18, said they recently struggled to put food on the table some of the time or frequently, according to a Census Household Pulse Survey.
That number dipped in a pulse survey released last week, but it still remains elevated and food relief organizations are worried things could get a lot worse.
They fear that surging coronavirus cases could lead to additional business shutdowns, closures and layoffs.
Local food banks say they have continued to see higher than normal numbers.
“Our partner agencies are back open again and we have a lot of entities that are doing this food work that don’t normally do it, like small churches,” said Lee Lauren Truesdale., chief development officer at The Foodbank.
There are also many organizations who are giving out USDA Farmers to Families boxes, which may stop at the end of this year due to a lack of funding. The USDA worked with regional and local distributors to get fresh meat, dairy and produce in these boxes.
“All of these extra resources that are out there for people to go to are no longer going to be there,” Truesdale said. “It does not look like it looked like in the spring for us, but that’s mostly because of those other resources that are available in the community for people to get food right now. The first quarter of 2021 is probably going to look really different.”
The week of Thanksgiving, The Foodbank saw about 350 to 400 cars per day. This past week, there were about 300 families served per day. The Foodbank has been doing three drive-thru pantries a week. At the beginning of the pandemic there were days when the lines for The Foodbank stretched for miles.
“It feels almost like people know how to live with this pandemic now,” Truesdale said. “In March and April, we didn’t know. I do think a lot of people are either just doing okay right now or getting extra support from those entities that don’t always do this.”
In October, The Foodbank served about 9,300 at the drive-thru, according to the organization’s data. In November, they served nearly 9,700 people. Truesdale said they are planning for an uptick around Christmas, which they would likely see on a smaller scale in a normal year.
“We’re planning for 2021 and we don’t know what it’s going to look like,” Truesdale said.
Joree Novotny, spokeswoman for the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, said the situation statewide is dire as the Farmers to Families boxes, the moratorium on evictions in the state and other coronavirus-related aid is set to end Dec. 31.
“We’re not trying to be ‘Chicken Little’ here, but its worrisome,” Novotny said. “There is a big feeling that there will be a second big economic crisis.”
Novotny said food banks across Ohio saw a decline in need at the beginning of the summer when the additional $600 payments were still being given, but need has creeped back up. As the temperature drops this winter, electric and gas bills will rise, forcing some families to change their budget for food. And as coronavirus cases rise, Novotny said missing work for some families puts them deeper into the hole.
“The economy is very interconnected. If you have a roof over your head its no use if you can’t afford food,” Novotny said. ”and the need for food is a ‘canary in the coalmine.’ It’s not a good sign.”
Jefferson Twp. resident Chasady Combs was laid off from her food service job at the beginning of the pandemic. She is currently working two jobs to try to make ends meet for her family.
“It’s still week to week,” she said. “We have to sit and plan our dinners for the week. I know exactly how much I have to spend at the grocery store. We plan it out literally to the last dime.”
Combs and her husband, who has been working full-time, are now trying to feed and pay bills for two households. Combs has a 16-year-old son and is now also taking care of her mother. Her son has had three open heart surgeries and is high risk for complications due to the coronavirus. Since Combs and her husband both work, their son lives with Combs’ mother right now.
Combs’ mother was recently approved for SNAP benefits, or food stamps. She said that helps the family with groceries, but carrying both households is still stressful.
They have also been able to go to the Point Choice Food Pantry based out of the Trotwood YMCA.
“I’m 35 and I’ve never seen anything like this. It is mentally, physically, spiritually exhausting,” Combs said. “We’re just trying to get through the week.”
By the numbers
14%: Ohioans who said they struggled to have enough food to eat.
9: Ohio ranking nationally for food insufficiency.
2.6 M: Ohioans served at food pantry from July to September.
83.2M: Pounds of food served at food pantry from July to September.
Source: Census Household Pulse Survey