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Akron Canton Foodbank sees a need higher than during the pandemic; volunteers needed for food rescue program

Posted at 5:52 PM, Oct 05, 2023

AKRON, Ohio — Officials with the Akron Canton Regional Foodbank say the need in the eight counties they serve is greater now than during the pandemic.

The increase in demand for families seeking emergency food assistance is up 23% since pre-pandemic levels in 2019, according to Raven Gayheart with ACRFB. This year alone, the agency has seen about a 30% increase in people seeking help from the food pantry network, she added.

That need was on display Thursday afternoon when about 100 cars were lined up for a food distribution about an hour before the event even started.

The Foodbank holds food distributions on the first Thursday of each month, normally at its headquarters on Opportunity Parkway, but due to a construction project at the facility, the events are temporarily taking place on South Main Street behind Spaghetti Warehouse.

Among those who waited in line was Janet Livingston, a retired grandmother from Akron. She said the lines seem just as long, if not longer, compared to the pandemic, but she's grateful for the assistance.

"This helps me a lot. It helps me quite a bit because I don't get no assistance, so this helps me," Livingston said.

Another Akron resident, Donovan Shoates, also came to the distributions during the pandemic. He feels his personal need is greater now, largely because of inflation.

"It's a big help because everything is going up nowadays. The utilities are up. Just trying to make ends meet, it helps supplement our food, and we can use the money for other bills and everything," Shoates said.

Gayheart said it's tough to see the long lines because it's evidence that so many people are struggling.

"I hope that people know that the Foodbank is here. I just imagine how many people live so close to the line," Gayheart said.

Gayheart said there are a number of factors leading to the increased need, including the high cost of groceries and SNAP benefits being reduced to pre-pandemic levels.

"With inflation supply chain disruptions right now, our inventory is barely keeping pace with demand," she said. "The increased costs for food, for other basic necessities, for utilities, rent, transportation, childcare— all of this is a strain on people's budget."

The Akron Canton Regional Foodbank is also looking for help from the community. It's seeking volunteers to help out a pantry at the Stark County campus. They also need volunteer drivers for the Community Harvest Prepared and Perishable Food Rescue program, which delivers unused food from restaurants.

"Volunteers have to be ready to lift anywhere from 10 to 40 pounds, repeatedly putting food donations into the truck and then unloading it to different hot meal sites and pantries," Gayheart said.

Gayheart said some of their regular volunteers are "retiring" from the program.

"Right now, we're looking for volunteers who are willing to volunteer with us two to four times per month and make a 6-month commitment," she said.

CLICK HERE for more information on how to become a volunteer.