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Area struggles with food hardship

Warren-Youngstown-Boardman ranks No. 2 nationwide

Tribune Chronicle / Christina Ramey Michael Iberis, executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley in Youngstown, shows where food is kept before it gets distributed to its 125 member agencies, who then distribute it to those in need. A study by the Food Research and Action Center shows the Warren-Youngstown-Boardman area has the second highest food hardship rate in the United States.

WARREN — The Warren-Youngstown-Boardman area has the second highest food hardship rate in the U.S., according to a study by the Food Research and Action Center.

That means 22 percent of people living in that region have difficulty finding an adequate supply of food, the study states. The No. 1 community of the 108 studied is Bakersfield in southern Califorina, according to the report.

The results of the study are reflected by help provided to local residents by the Warren Family Mission and Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley. The food bank collects food that it then distributes to its 125 member agencies in Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties.

“We definitely have a huge need here in the community for food and stuff,” said Dominic Mararri, director of public relations for the Warren Family Mission, which is served by Second Harvest.

The Warren Family Mission last year provided 120,716 meals to local residents, a nearly 6.5 percent increase from 2016.

Michael Iberis, executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank, said the numbers seem to reflect the hardship levels in the community, especially among senior citizens.

“What we’re hearing people say is, ‘I didn’t think I was going to live this long,'” Iberis said. “Some of them may be in their 80s and they’re finding out that the money that they retired on 20 some years ago, that $600 or whatever they were making at the time in Social Security was sufficient then, but now it’s a struggle.”

Iberis said when the food bank moved into its building along Salt Springs Road 15 years ago, workers were distributing between 4 and 4.5 million pounds of food. In 2017, they distributed 10.5 million pounds, making it the most ever distributed, Iberis said.

The mission also is seeing increases in how many people need help. In 2017, the mission sent home 16,987 bags of food from the pantry with families, an increase of 2,710 from the previous year.

The action center study found an average of 34.8 percent of people with children in Warren, Youngstown and Boardman have dealt with food hardship, while 16.6 percent of those without children struggle.

The study defines food hardship as a person in a 12-month period not having enough money to buy food for him- / herselves or his / her family.

Overall, Ohio was ranked No. 18 of 51, including Washington, D.C., with an average of 16.2 percent of people in the state having trouble finding food. No. 1 in the study was Mississippi.

The Warren Family Mission provides free meals twice per day, six days per week.

“Typically we see over 100 people per meal. With the summer months, there are a lot more children. We are seeing a lot more people, increase in number,” Mararri said. “I think it could be a part of the opioid crisis. Also there are a lot of working poor. Once they pay bills, they don’t have money for food.”

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