Food pantries deal in mass quantities to meet demand

JERRY LUTH (right) fills a food order for a family at Chopin Hall while Tom Bates works on another order. Chopin Hall distributes food boxes three days a week, and the City Mission twice a week. The agencies rely on food donations from individuals and businesses and find ways to stretch monetary donations to maximize what needs to be purchased. (Photo by Randy Roberts)

JERRY LUTH (right) fills a food order for a family at Chopin Hall while Tom Bates works on another order. Chopin Hall distributes food boxes three days a week, and the City Mission twice a week. The agencies rely on food donations from individuals and businesses and find ways to stretch monetary donations to maximize what needs to be purchased. (Photo by Randy Roberts)

Staff Writer
It’s not unusual to see long lines of people forming early outside Chopin Hall.
The agency, which provides food to Hancock County residents who are living at less than 200 percent of federal poverty level, distributes boxes of food every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon. Clients have the chance to receive food once a month.
“You can tell when people are here for their first time. Sometimes they cry. Sometimes they won’t look us in the face,” said executive director Marti Price.
Providing food is the primary service of the agency, located in the Family Center, 1800 N. Blanchard St.
Across town at the City Mission, 510 W. Main Cross St., food and shelter are the main services. Anyone from the community can come for dinner. Food boxes with enough non-perishable foods and frozen meat to last at least three days are available on Tuesdays and Thursdays, regardless of income. Again, clients can receive a box once a month.
“We figure if they come to the mission either for food or a place to sleep, … they need the help,” said Phil Arnold, executive director. “Everybody gets our help.”
Both agencies rely on donations and the help of volunteers to feed the community.
“Something I never take for granted is that we couldn’t do what we do without the community of Findlay supporting what we do,” said Dewey Harris, men’s director at The City Mission. “This happens because of faithful donors and faithful volunteers.”
“This was 100 percent church-funded when it started out,” Price said. “Now we’re 47 percent church-funded. The rest comes from local businesses and organizations and individuals.”
In addition to a four-day supply of food, clothing and household goods are also available.
The agency buys food from the West Ohio Food Bank in Lima where a dollar goes further because items can be purchased in much larger quantities at much lower prices.
“We paid $65,000 (in 2013), and the retail amount of the food we gave out was $760,000,” Price said.
The agency has other venues for getting bread and fresh vegetables.
Food boxes are packed according to the number of people in the household with those 12 and older being considered adults.
“Every member of the family gets two cans of vegetables, two cans of fruit and a can of soup,” Price said.
Bread is available daily, and extras that have been donated are also available for clients to take. These may include bags of potatoes, lettuce and bananas.
Mobile food pantries are held twice a month at various locations in Findlay and Hancock County.
Price said there has been an increase in the number of people who have visited the agency this winter. She attributes the increase to recent cuts in food assistance, the weather being such that construction workers can’t get out and work, and high utility bills.
The agency noted a record-high number of 139 families who sought help in one day in February.
Donations and volunteers are extremely important to the program, she added.
“People want to give back when they can. That’s the way we operate. That’s the way we continue to be able to do this because people are so appreciative when they’re here, that if they do get things turned around, they remember us,” she said.
Meanwhile, the City Mission is not just a food pantry, but also provides meals.
“We serve almost 30,000 meals a year, that’s breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Arnold said. “Dinner is open to everybody. Lunch is for people in the program. Breakfast is for people who are actually staying here.”
“But all that costs us is less than $2,000 a year in cash which includes paper goods and so on, so we get almost everything donated in one form or another,” he said. “For example, the bread truck came today. We sort it when we get it, what we can use and what we can’t, and then this is part of our giveaway program.”
The City Mission has a separate food box program on Tuesday and Thursday nights where people receive a box of food, again determined by family size. About 765 boxes of food were given in 2013.
“For people who come in here, we do not qualify anybody for the food boxes or any of our services for that matter,” Arnold said. “We ask for something that says they have a residence like a utility bill so we know they have a place to prepare the food, but we don’t do any income qualifications of any kind.”
Arnold said the agency gets donations from various businesses. He said the University of Findlay’s food service, Sodexo, recently started a program called the Food Recovery Network.
“At the end of the night we will get food, not food that has been put out on the counter, but other things they have in back,” Arnold said.
At the holidays, companies donate turkeys and hams. Donations also come in from local food drives and through the Darrel the Barrel program which places bright yellow, 44-gallon trash barrels into restaurants, factories and businesses to collect non-perishable food donations. Volunteers sort the items by date and year. Some goes to food boxes while the rest is used for meals, Harris said.
“Those that are outdated are put aside and we’ll go through them and see if it’s salvageable or not. If it’s clearly outdated, they’ll go to the trash. But if it’s near date, we might put that in a food box or we might use it right away in our kitchen,” he said.
Arnold said this is the time of year when donations run low.
“There’s always food drives in the fall, and they kind of peter out in the summertime when people are busy doing other things. And that’s kind of when they’d like to do one because that’s kind of our low point in our inventory,” he said.
That cuts the amount of food clients can receive.
“In the fall we were doing two (food boxes a month). It’s just you get into January and you know all of your food drives are over and we’re out of soup and it’s time to cut back to one,” he said.
The boxes are readied in a nearby building for distribution beginning at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Men’s director Jim Davison registers people when they come in for the evening meal. While they are eating, their box is prepared.
Harris said canned soups are always in high demand.
“A lot of times, you can see our shelves, everybody brings corn and beans,” he said. “I can probably do unlimited number of food boxes of corn and beans, but the soup shelves are more bare. Canned fruit is very important and canned meats.”
“We try to create a balanced meal every night,” he said. “Milk and eggs, those are things that you probably don’t think of for a canned food drive, but we need them on a daily basis.”
Arnold said the program wouldn’t be able to operate without donations.
“We don’t buy anything. We will from time to time buy milk if we have to, especially if there’s children. And paper goods from time to time we’ll have to buy those, but we spend very little,” he said.
“That’s how we feed the community,” said Harris. ” Without those donations, that means we’re going to the grocery store. That kind of financial burden can really trip us up.”
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