Wednesday, November 14, 2001

Working poor seeking food aid climbs

Some Tristate figures above U.S. average

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Fewer welfare recipients — but more working poor and their children — are seeking food assistance locally and across the United States, a national study released today reports.

        The 20-county Tristate region, which includes Northern Kentucky and Indiana counties, exceeds national averages in several categories, including the percentages of recipients below the poverty level and those who have children.

        More than a third of the 111,770 annual recipients of local emergency food services were children.

        Local providers say they are disheartened by the findings — but not surprised.

        Billed as the most comprehensive study on hunger in U.S. history, America's Second Harvest's “Hunger in America/2001” included interviews with 32,000 recipients and questionnaires from 24,000 agencies. Of those, the regional FreeStore/FoodBank interviewed 322 agencies and their clients in its system.

        Second Harvest is a national network of food banks. Many are church-affiliated. For most, the majority of staff are volunteers.

        “Some good has been done,” said Jan Seidel, director of development for the FreeStore/FoodBank. “But other factors have come in and undone them. There are fewer people getting food stamps. We're feeding just slightly more than five years ago, and in the booming economy we had, that's not good news.”

        The biggest factor, Ms. Seidel and other providers said, is the economic downtown that began last year. As layoffs increase, financial uncertainty also has prompted employers to keep jobs vacant.

        Kevin Abney, 22, of Oakley, is a fairly typical recipient.

        He's white (most recipients nationally and locally are), has a wife and two kids, with a third due next month; and he has had a string of low-wage jobs in landscaping and labor.

        He is now unemployed, but hopes to gain an apprenticeship to be a union pipe fitter, which could pay more than $20 an hour.

        He and his wife came to the FreeStore/FoodBank in Over-the-Rhine on Tuesday to begin the process of getting help feeding the family.

        He never thought it would come to this.

        “Actually, I was kind of hesitant,” Mr. Abney said moments after filling out an application. “It's a charity thing.”

        Increased food-assistance requests have been reported this year throughout the Tristate, from the core Cincinnati neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine to the rolling farmland of Highland County; from Dayton, Ky., to Dayton, Ohio.

        Based on family size, the Abneys will receive a 64-pound delivery of groceries that is expected to last a month.

        “I was always the guy at the church giving out food, not being on this end,” Mr. Abney said. “But we hit a molehill. We're not staying on this. It's to get us through.”

        Unlike Mr. Abney, the overwhelming majority of those seeking assistance at the FreeStore in Over-the-Rhine are African-American.

        But 68 percent of local recipients are white. The most common situation is a white woman with children living in a rural area.

        “People don't realize there are so many homeless out here, living in cars or with family or friends,” said Debbie Mitchell, executive director of Samaritan Outreach Services in Hillsboro, in Highland County.

        “We're noticing more working poor than ever, a lot of people coming out here, but the job market isn't,” Ms. Mitchell said. “They're working at McDonald's and Wendy's. It means they're off welfare, but you can't feed a family on that.”

        In 2000, Samaritan Outreach helped 1,143 families with emergency groceries, Ms. Mitchell said. From January to June, it had 746, a 31 percent increase over last year's pace.

        At the FreeStore/FoodBank in Over-the-Rhine, one of the region's biggest providers, monthly requests have risen about 40 percent in the past year: from 1,000 a month last fall to between 1,300 and 1,600 in recent months.

        August brought an all-time highof 1,800 requests, Ms. Seidel said.

        Among the local findings:

        • Of the 111,770 people provided emergency hunger-relief annually, 40,460 (36.2 percent) were children.

        • 9,949 (8.9 percent) of recipients are children under age 6.

        • 68 percent are white; 31.2 percent are African-American; and 4.4 percent are Hispanic.

        • 27 percent of households have one or more adults employed.

        • 46.4 percent of recipients have not completed high school.

        • 77 percent of recipients have incomes below the federally established poverty level, with a median household income of $646 per month. That level nationally is 64 percent.

        For many local agencies that rely less on state and federal government involvement, the solution is to further tap church organizations and volunteer groups — the backbone of aid.

        “We're not a business that supplies a product that supports ourselves,” Highland County's Ms. Mitchell said. “We don't make money.”


Coroner facing new controversy
Officers see need for change in attitudes
- Working poor seeking food aid climbs
Groups list demands in wake of acquittals
Sign-up still means get up
ADD? Call it a gift
Clean-air efforts in area rated weak
General: 'So far, so good'
Last tainted soil removed at Fernald
Tristate A.M. Report
HOWARD: Some Good News
RADEL: Forward, march
SAMPLES: Cigarette wars
Board ponders action on anonymous mailing
Fiber-optic work begins
Lebanon leaves Main Street vote for new council
Pierce firefighters to serve Ohio Twp.
Utility-pole fight waning
DeWine proposes tough law on anthrax hoaxes
Ohio's graduation rate 15th in nation; Kentucky ranks 36th
Senate GOP leaders propose cutting budget up to $830M
State official wants Olympics spending accounted for
Covington asks state to pay for 12th St. development plan
Covington schools link up with NAACP
Covington's gun deaths at '00 total
Deputy killed, 2 others wounded in shootout
Kenton Co. Democrat may face 1st opponent in 24 years
Kids' art shows pride
Newport loosens up liquor laws
Plea deal in kidnap case
State expands Big Bone park