Monday, November 9, 2009

Struggling Food Pantries Need More Donations During Holidays

By Jessica Neidhard

The holiday season is a time for giving, but for the organizations that provide food to southeastern Ohio's neediest, the season of giving is even more crucial.

"It's a crisis we're in," said Marilyn Sloan, manager of the Southeast Ohio Regional Food Center.

That crisis has gotten even worse as the downturn in the economy forced more and more people to ask for food just to get through the week.

The weak economy's affect on the food center is two-fold. Not only are more families asking for food, but even people who would normally donate can't afford to anymore.

The food center is then met with an increased demand and a dwindling supply.

Southeast Ohio Regional Food Center Manager Marilyn Sloan discusses the increased demand for food in Athens County.

That food center, part of the Hocking-Athens-Perry Community Action, provides boxes of pancake mix, fresh fruit, peanut butter and meat to more than 28,000 people in Athens County alone. The center also serves food to another nine Appalachian counties.

The People Who Suffer

Since the downturn of the economy Sloan said in addition to more people needing assistance, the types of people have changed.

"We've gotten people who need help but say they've never needed food stamps or any assistance before, and they're embarrassed that they can't provide for their families," she said.

Marilyn Sloan explains how people wait to ask for food assistance.

Sloan said that some days her job is heartbreaking, especially when she meets with clients at their home.

"I had one family that literally had scraps of food in their home," she said. "I opened the refrigerator and it had some milk and eggs and the pantry only had three cans of pork and beans, and this is a family that has three children."

Even worse, she added is that the people who haven't lost their jobs don't understand the problems happening to their own neighbors.

"If you haven't lost your job, if you can provide for your family, you have no idea how real this problem is around here," she said.

Messages of Hope

Despite the overwhelming number of families needing help, Sloan said she tries to remain hopeful by sending emails to one person she knows she can make a difference.

"Every morning before I come in to work I send an email to President Obama asking him, challenging him to come to Southeast Ohio, see how people are suffering," she said.

Sloan admitted that although she hasn't heard a response yet, she believes someday he will answer her pleas.

In the meantime Sloan is working with Katie Couric and the CBS evening news producers to interview struggling families in the area for a winter show. She said she hopes the show will help people understand the problems in Southeast Ohio and encourage them to donate food and money.

As of now, Sloan said the segment about Southeast Ohio is scheduled to air December or January.

Marilyn Sloan talks about challenging local officials to volunteer in food pantries.

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