Despite supply chain challenges plaguing regional and national food networks, several food banks in Portage County remain in good shape, thanks to the support of local community members, businesses and organizations.
The Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank has seen a reduction in the amount of food distributed from 2020 to 2021, according to Dan Flowers, president and CEO of the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank.
“In 2020 we distributed just under 37 million pounds of food, and this year we planned to do about the same,” he said. “We ended the year with just over £30m.”
Following:Portage County businesses among those finding broken supply chain links
Local food bank leaders said there were a few more difficult items to get from the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank, but local donors and the fact that the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank did not charge not food in 2021 helped make up the difference.
Marquice Seward, program manager at Kent Social Services, said the organization received about 70% of its food in 2021 from the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank.
“Last year, everything we got from them was free,” she said. “We were really able to maintain services thanks to them.”
However, the community has also been particularly generous, she added.
“We just had a board meeting and our president mentioned how generous the local community has been throughout the pandemic,” Seward said. “Just in November, Kent City Schools held their tin drive and brought in a record 20,000+ items. Here we are in a pandemic, and the community is still intensifying.
Kent Social Services food co-ordinator Bill Bowen said restaurants in the area have also been very supportive. Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Red Lobster and Bob Evans have all provided food to Kent Social Services.
Following:Ravenna schools distribute food while students learn remotely
“We used to get things from Guido at least every two weeks, if not more often, and now we get something from them once a month,” he said, adding that Costco was doing also food donation.
Bowen also said Kent Social Services obtains meat from Portage County’s Randolph Fair every year.
“A lot of people who buy the animals from the fair, the cows and the pigs, give them to us,” he said. “I probably get enough meat for six to eight months.”
Ellie Boyer, treasurer of Crestwood 4Cs, said the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank has lacked a few items in the recent past.
“Things like tuna, pasta, peanut butter and mac and cheese were in high demand at the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank for part of 2020,” she said. “These issues are starting to resolve and we were able to get these high-demand items again.”
Boyer said the 4Cs shopped at local grocery stores to help supplement some of the basics the food bank lacked, and the local community also stepped up.
The Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank provided about 12,000 pounds of food last year to 4Cs in Crestwood, and local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts recently collected 1,200 pounds at a food drive, Boyer said.
The Randolph Suffield Atwater Food Shelf is another local food pantry that receives food from the food bank, and Joan Trautman, one of the food shelf’s three directors, said the community and local businesses have helped insulate the food shelf from the supply chain issues the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank has experienced.
“Giant Eagle gives us his meat on Tuesdays,” she said. “They have their meat on their shelves for three days and then they have to take it out.”
Following:Inauguration of the new Randolph-Suffield-Atwater Food Shelf building
She said the store also donated other items.
The Randolph Suffield Atwater food shelf has also been supported by organizations, Trautman said.
“We have three school systems, and they support us really, really well,” she said, adding that the State Highway Patrol, Suffield United Church of Christ and other churches supported the food shelf. , which is based in a new addition to the Knights of Columbus St Edifice in St. Joseph Parish on Waterloo Road.
Diane Jones, another director of the Randolph Suffield Atwater Food Shelf, said getting free food from the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank helped in 2021, but that program ended Jan. 1.
“Our first trip to the food bank in Akron will be scary, I think,” she said.
Lajoyce Harris, program manager at the Ravenna Hope Center, said the shelves are full at the Hope Center.
“We don’t know of any shortages whatsoever,” she said. “We were truly blessed that our community was able to step in and fill the food insecurity void.”
She said Center of Hope serves an average of 150 hot meals a day.
Realizing that the Akron-Canton food bank was set to start charging partners for food again in 2022, Harris said she “started ordering a little more” from the food bank in November.
The big picture
While local food pantries have been somewhat shielded from shortages due to local donations and savings from not being billed by the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank in 2021, Flowers said chain issues supplies contributed to the decrease in the number of food bank distributions in 2021 compared to 2020.
Last year, donations from Feeding America, a national organization that distributes food to regional food banks like the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank, declined in 2021 due to supply chain issues, said Flowers.
“We have lost nearly £2 million in donations to domestic food manufacturers,” he said.
Another factor hurting donations to the food bank this year was the halt to the trade mitigation program established by the Trump administration, he said.
“When Trump imposed his trade embargoes on China, it affected exports,” Flowers said.
As a result, he explained, the government bought up surplus food from American farmers that ended up going to American food banks. This is another factor that caused the reduction in distribution from 2020 to 2021. In 2020, he said the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank received approximately 5.8 million pounds of food as a result of the trade mitigation program, and by 2021 that number had fallen to around 90,000 pounds.
“It was a great program for food banks across the country,” Flowers said. “No government program has stepped in and helped food banks this year.”
However, he said more money was going to SNAP and WIC had helped reduce demand somewhat.
Flowers said the Akron-Canton regional food bank has had the same kind of strong local support as smaller food banks in Portage County.
“Local manufacturers have taken really good care of us this year,” he said. “JM Smuckers is a great company.”
Frito-Lay, US Foods and Giant Eagle were other big regional supporters, he added. Flowers said other major food manufacturers across the country are also likely supporting regional food banks rather than trying to navigate supply chain hassles to deliver food to Feeding America, the largest national hunger relief organization.
“If you’re a Cincinnati-based food company and you don’t have a lot to give, you’re going to give it to the Cincinnati Food Bank,” Flowers said. “It’s the same thing here.”
Flowers also said he was concerned about small, local food banks that may have lost volunteers during the pandemic. Many of these volunteers tend to be older and may have chosen to stay safe at home rather than continue to go out in public during the pandemic, he explained.
Fewer volunteers, coupled with the possibility of greater demand for food as government subsidies are cut, could create challenges in the future for food banks, Flowers said.
“We had 50 charities that received food from us and closed due to COVID,” he said. “I think we’re going to have to work really hard to nurture and rebuild the charity food market.”
For now, however, leaders at several Portage County food banks say they are still in good shape, thanks to the Akron-Canton Food Bank’s year of free food and strong local support. .
Do you have a business or healthcare story you’d like to share? Journalist Bob Gaetjens can be reached at 330-541-9440, [email protected] and @bobgaetjens_rc.