MENTOR, Ohio — Putting food on the table is putting pressure on many Northeast Ohio families. In Lake County, close to one-third of the population is now struggling to afford basic needs, according to the United Way of Lake County.
The figure includes more than 27,000 adults and 7,000 children already living with food insecurity. About 8 percent of the county falls below the poverty line. Another 23 percent are on the threshold of that line.
“Those most affected are the low and middle-income households that don’t benefit from any federal nutrition programs or any nutrition programs at all,” explained Tami Lewis, the marketing and communications director for United Way of Lake County (UWLC).
She said most of the more than 30 local pantries the organization serves are seeing an increased demand for food assistance.
“It used to be a fight between - ‘Do I get medicine or do I get food?’ And now it’s just ‘I can’t afford anything,’” said Denise Dworning, the pastor at Vineyard Community Church, which operates a weekly food pantry serving 150-175 clients.
Thursday, the church’s pantry was among those receiving food donations from UWLC during the organization’s largest annual food distribution. Between the Thursday supplies and another drive in May, a total of $87,000 in food was distributed.
“We’re going to need more and more donations in order to help people,” Dworning said. “They’re talking about cutting the SNAP benefits, they’re cutting the COVID benefits so it’s only going to get worse.”
A federal COVID-19 emergency declaration temporarily enhanced the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Ohio saw about $120 million per month in emergency food assistance dollars for around 700,000 Ohioans. Many states, including Ohio, plan to discontinue the enhanced benefits when the U.S. lifts its public health emergency.
On average, Americans could lose $100 per month in food assistance when the change takes effect.
“It’s anticipated by the food pantries that the problem is going to grow much worse and they’re not going to be able to keep up with the need,” said Lewis.
Mary Annis Davis, a volunteer with McKinley Community Outreach Center, added, “We’re suspecting the summer could get really, really busy for us.”
COVID-era assistance could end as inflation soars to a 40-year high. Food prices have risen nearly 12 percent in the past year.
“When you go to a regular grocery store, you do without a lot that you normally would get because of the cost with inflation and the pandemic. Everything’s going up in price. You just do what you’ve got to do to make ends meet,” said Darlene Adkins.
She is currently feeding a household of four and helping provide her elderly mother with extra food. The Eastlake family’s income is just above the threshold to qualify for SNAP benefits and Adkins said she’s been relying on monthly assistance from the McKinley food pantry.
“We’ve cut back a lot. But we have a son that’s been really sick this year too so it’s been really tight. So this place has been heaven sent,” she explained.
Before the uncertainty that came with inflation, UWLC said $1 in donations could buy up to 4 meals. With ever-changing prices recently, Lewis said it’s difficult to quantify how far a dollar is going, but she said it’s not stretching as far as it once was.
“There’s so much need out there right now because of the inflation. People are just struggling to put food on the table,” she said.
UWLC and the organizations it serves rely on donations to support the Lake County Community. You can find more information about how to support United Way and its mission by clicking here. You can also donate by texting UWLC100 to 44321.
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