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Mid-Ohio Foodbank Advancing New Approach To Hunger

The Mid-Ohio Foodbank wants to change the conversation when it comes to ending hunger. It’s advancing some new approaches as it moves from being solely a hunger relief organization to a leader in addressing the core causes of poverty and food insecurity. Mike Foley reports.

Research from Mid-Ohio Foodbank reveals that 414,000 Franklin County residents are currently living below 200 percent of poverty. That’s about $24,000 for an individual, $41,000 for a family of three, and roughly $59,000 for a family of five. People in these categories are accessing food from their limited income, dwindling government sources and charity assistance. But the research found a startling statistic. Mid-Ohio Foodbank President and CEO Matt Habash says 69 million meals per year are being missed in Franklin County, 145 million meals in the foodbank’s 20-county service area.

“And that assumes income and government don’t go down,” Habash said. “So we’re saying we need a new approach, a client-centered approach because we actually had a client say I can’t afford to go to a food pantry. We said what do you mean you can’t afford to get food that’s free? She said I can’t afford to take a day off of work. You don’t lose wages when your child gets sick. You don’t lose wages when your car breaks down or when you have to take a day off work. These people do. Every time they do. So we want to create hubs that are open like grocery stores, 50 to 60 hours a week as opposed to one to two hours a week on this day and you have to know where to go.”

One such hub location being discussed would be at Columbus State Community College in partnership with the school’s culinary program. The ultimate remedy though according to Habash – wages.

“The solution to all of this is people having the resources in their own pocket book to go to the grocery store,” Habash said. “I did the food stamp challenge several years ago. I did it for five days. What I discovered was that of the 15 meals for those five days, 10 of them could have been free for me. That’s my privilege because I had business meetings and parties to go to. We take that for granted. If you’re low income, you’re not getting business luncheons and meals. We need to just stop judging and to realize we have to step into this differently and take a holistic approach.”

Some companies have committed to increasing wages, including Huntington Bancshares. President and CEO Stephen Steinour says Huntington has increased the minimum wage from $12.50/hour to $14.00 and now its current $15.00/hour level.

“We’re hoping that the economy continues to perform, and if so we’ll be able to stay on this pathway we’re on,” Steinhour said. “Should we have a recession, that may slow the pathway or cause us to suspend the program. But as we come back out, we would expect it to continue. We believe we have the roots of our program established. The culture of the company is responding to the investments we’re making. We serve the community at large, but I also think it’s an example of good business practice that I’m hopeful others will think about at least.”   

Another approach by the Mid-Ohio Foodbank involves helping to strengthen government programs that are working including SNAP and WIC. Officials say more access to fresh food will result in better health outcomes and mitigate healthcare costs.

Mike Foley joined WCBE in February 2000, coming from WUFT in Gainesville, Florida. Foley has worked in various roles, from producing news and feature stories to engineering Live From Studio A sessions. A series of music features Foley started in 2018 called Music Journeys has grown into a podcast and radio show. He also assists in developing other programs in WCBE's Podcast Experience. Foley hosts The Morning Mix, a weekday music show featuring emerging and established musicians, our Columbus-area and Ohio-based talent, and additional artists that inspire him.
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