AKRON, Ohio — Every third Friday of the month, Open M in Akron hosts the Mountain of Food distribution which helps out more than 200 families.
Stephen Tenney, a Marine Corps veteran, waits in the drive-thru line and is grateful to bring home meals for himself and his wife.
"It's a blessing to have people out here to help," Tenney said. "To me, it lets me know I have a little bit of extra food in the house and I don't have to worry about going hungry."
However, supplying food to pantries like Open M has become more challenging for the Akron Canton Regional Foodbank because donations from stores, wholesalers, and manufacturers are down 19% compared to this time last year.
The reasons mirror what consumers are seeing in stores, according to Jenn Dyer, the director of operations for ACRFB.
"We go into the grocery store. We see empty cooler cases. We see empty shelves. We see less commodities to purchase ourselves. Supply chain is a thing. Inflation is a thing," Dyer said.
The 4,000-square-foot cooler inside the facility is typically full of food, but since the food inventory turnover is too high due to increased demand, the area usually strained for space has a lot of empty shelves.
The Foodbank did receive a recent boost when Superior Dairy donated 123,000 pounds of cottage cheese. Dyer stressed the donation is a big deal because of the needs that were mentioned by 30 food programs during listening sessions early this year.
"Dairy was one of the top five items that they've requested so we've been really intentional in targeting donors that are able to supply us with donations like dairy, like cottage cheese," Dyer said.
The Foodbank is now spreading the word about the need and asking other stores and manufacturers to donate food like dairy, meat, produce, canned vegetables and soups to fill the shelves in the warehouse.
"We have seen a significant increase in our ability to purchase foods at a competitive price point," Dyer said.
Pantries in the eight-county network have seen a 14% increase in the number of people served compared to last year, according to Raven Gayheart, spokesperson for the Akron Canton Regional Foodbank.
Among families visiting pantries, 25% of them are receiving food for the first time, Gayheart said.
"We're fighting for every pound, every case of food and every meal," Dyer said.
Tenney said he's grateful for the meals he received and to anyone who donates in the future.
"I appreciate if they would help as much as they can because there's a lot of people who need help," he said.
Those interested in helping should call the Akron Canton Regional Foodbank at 330-535-6900.
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