Seventeen percent of Dayton-area residents, including 39,390 children, don’t have enough to eat, according to a recently released study.
That statistic outlined in the 2014 Map the Meal Gap study is something Carolyn Smith of Dayton knew all too well.
“I would just munch on (junk) or didn’t eat,” Smith said.
Friends took the 63-year-old to Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley’s choice food pantry for help a year ago.
“You don’t know where your next meal is going to come from,” she said. “(People) have to choose between buying medicine or how they will eat.”
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Sidelined by a work injury, Smith was deeply depressed, hungry and living without utilities in her home.
She was 59 — too young to qualify for some assistance programs and too old, judged by some, for certain employment.
“I was praying and believing and asking God to get me through it,” Smith said.
Catholic Social Services’ pantry is one of 85 in Montgomery, Greene and Preble counties that receive food donated to or purchased with funds donated to The Foodbank Inc.
Michelle Riley, the nonprofit’s CEO, said people are simply not making enough money to feed their families.
Ohio ranks 16th nationally in child food insecurity rates, according to Map the Meal Gap, Feeding America’s county-by- county evaluation of food insecurity nationwide.
A 2013 U.S. Department of Agriculture report ranked Ohio 10th in the nation for overall food insecurity for 2010-12. The food insecurity rate was 16.1 percent, a marked increase over prior periods. The rate was 9.8 percent for 2000-02 and 14.8 percent for 2007-09.
The Foodbank’s service area is geographically the smallest of the areas serviced by one of Ohio’s 12 foodbanks. Riley says it has the sixth-highest need with its 125,700 food-insecure people in its three-county area.
“The equalizer in it is poverty,” she said. “We have made less in the last three years than we did in 2008. Unemployment is going down, but people don’t have enough (money) to sustain and make too much money to qualify for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).”
The price of food is on the increase.
Prices for common food like oranges, apples, steak and chicken jumped by double-digit percentages in the past year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says milk and egg prices have increased by 7 percent.
Benefits to the federal food assistance program have been cut by more than $83 million since October, according to a Ohio Association of Foodbanks evaluation of data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
Riley said the cuts represent $36 less a month for each family of four using SNAP.
“What people think hunger looks like, it doesn’t look like anymore,” she said.
The Food Bank distributed 7.2 million pounds of food in 2013 to about 70,000 people. It expects to distribute 8 million pounds this year, a number dramatically higher than the 3.1 million pounds distributed in 2008.
Marilyn Horton, program specialist for the Catholic Service pantry, said that people need her organization for a variety of reasons. There are teens who age out of foster care with no support system, seniors without a nest’s egg, parents who pay child support who can’t afford to eat themselves and people who have fallen on hard times.
The pantry at 922 W. Riverview Ave. serviced 18,309 families in 2013.
Pantry users can receive a supply of food every 30 days. Fresh fruits and vegetables are available even more frequently.
“There are seniors, there are families,” Horton said. “We don’t refuse people food.”
David Bohardt, executive director St. Vincent de Paul, said food insecurity is often hidden.
St. Vincent’s has two pantry locations, 945 S. Edwin C. Moses Blvd. in Dayton and 4825 Salem Ave. in Harrison Twp.
Bohardt contrasted it with homelessness. “One can see homelessness. One does not see hunger,” he said. “At the root of the problems of homelessness and food insecurity is poverty.”
Smith remembers vividly the years she didn’t have enough to eat.
Smith now works at the Catholic Services’ pantry through Goodwill Easter Seals of the Miami Valley senior employment program.
She understood all too well why a man recent cried while getting food at the pantry for the first time. Human pride comes into play when asking for help, Smith said.
“I’ve been there. I’ve been through it,” she said. “There is hope and there is help out there.”