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.
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