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As the pandemic rages on, lines and costs are up at food banks across Ohio

 A volunteer prepares an order at the Westerville Area Resource Ministry (WARM) food pantry in December 2020.
Karen Kasler
/
Statehouse News Bureau
A volunteer prepares an order at the Westerville Area Resource Ministry (WARM) food pantry in December 2020. Food banks throughout the state are seeing increased demand for their services, while they struggle with rising costs, reduced donations, and worker shortages.

This latest omicron variant has schools in Cleveland and Cincinnati going back to remote learning, workplaces delaying returning to offices, and people continuing to head to food banks.

Lines are growing at food banks. And with inflation and other issues, so are costs at those food banks.

“Supply chains and the availability of food are getting tighter. The cost of food have gone up significantly just in the last six months. We’re paying 18.5% more for food, the cost of transportation," said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt with the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.

At the same time, private donations from food manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and local food drives are down.

"Private donations, both from food manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and local food drives, generally range between 45% to 50% of the food that we have to distribute," Hamler-Fugitt said. "It's now fallen to a record low of 33.5% of the food that we have to distribute."

Food banks are asking the state for $30 million of $620 million in unspent federal COVID relief funds from the American Rescue Plan to help. Hamler-Fugitt said that money would be used not only for food, but also for more personal care, personal hygiene and household cleaning items, as well as PPE, masks, hand sanitizer, and COVID testing kits.

And like other businesses, food banks are also having staffing issues as well. They're having to pay higher wages to bring in new employees and are competing with commercial trucking operations, schools and governments for people with commercial drivers licenses (CDLs).

And Hamler-Fugitt said foodbanks are also asking for $153 million to rebuild infrastructure in the system.

"We've lost nonprofit and faith based organizations who will not return to these communities as a result of lost revenue, permanent lost revenue," Hamler-Fugitt said.

She said brick-and-mortar storefronts and markets need to be built back up, as well as transportation operations and that's expensive.

"Two refrigerated box trucks are about $350,000, so we're looking at a lot of fleets that have to be replaced," she said.

Hamler-Fugitt said she's grateful that food banks got $24.5 million in the current state budget but that was not an increase. Hamler-Fugitt said a lot of money was spent on temporary workers after the Ohio National Guard's mission ended last summer, and those short-term workers were expensive.
Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Karen is a lifelong Ohioan who has served as news director at WCBE-FM, assignment editor/overnight anchor at WBNS-TV, and afternoon drive anchor/assignment editor in WTAM-AM in Cleveland. In addition to her daily reporting for Ohio’s public radio stations, she’s reported for NPR, the BBC, ABC Radio News and other news outlets. She hosts and produces the Statehouse News Bureau’s weekly TV show “The State of Ohio”, which airs on PBS stations statewide. She’s also a frequent guest on WOSU TV’s “Columbus on the Record”, a regular panelist on “The Sound of Ideas” on ideastream in Cleveland, appeared on the inaugural edition of “Face the State” on WBNS-TV and occasionally reports for “PBS Newshour”. She’s often called to moderate debates, including the Columbus Metropolitan Club’s Issue 3/legal marijuana debate and its pre-primary mayoral debate, and the City Club of Cleveland’s US Senate debate in 2012.