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US: Lack of food more widespread than many realize

Consumer spending for the holidays is up an estimated 10 percent this year. But amid plenty, hunger remains, particularly in Ohio.

“One of the biggest misperceptions I’ve seen about hunger in Ohio is that people think it occurs only in very poor households,” said Pat Bebo, director of Community Nutrition programs for Ohio State University Extension.

Families who earn more than the threshold for services such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP, formerly food stamps), the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program, and reduced-price school meals still can have trouble putting food on the table, she said.

“This is the hidden face of food insecurity.”

And it’s more widespread than many people believe, added Irene Hatsu, food security specialist for OSU Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

“A lot of people think hunger is concentrated in inner cities and low-income areas, but it’s also very prevalent in the suburbs,” Hatsu said. “Because of the stigma, food-insecure families in suburbia may not be willing to talk about it. They may even go to food pantries far away from where they live, where no one knows them.”

Youngest among the hardest hit
According to the Children’s Hunger Alliance, more than 630,000 children across Ohio live in food-insecure households — enough children to fill Ohio Stadium six times. As many as 1 in 4 Ohio children are unsure of where their next meal is coming from.

SNAP benefits can help, Bebo said. But they only go so far. According to the latest figures from the USDA, SNAP benefits for Ohio households — with two members each, on average — come to just $250 a month.

This time of year, food banks and pantries often enjoy a surge of donations. When donating food items, Bebo recommends giving the healthiest food possible.

“That could be fruit canned in its own juices, canned vegetables or whole-grain cereal — shelf-stable products that have a higher nutritional quality,” she said.

Even produce farmers who can’t harvest all their crop could contact food banks to see if volunteers could glean leftover fruits and vegetables instead of letting it rot in the fields, she said.

Growers donate
In 2016, OSU Extension’s Master Gardener Volunteers started the “GROW Ohio — Feed the Hungry” initiative, in which Master Gardener teams were encouraged to donate produce they grew to the hungry, and to measure and report it when they did so.

In the first year, 14 counties participated and recorded donating 46,198 pounds of produce, from 593 pounds in Stark County to as much as 10,386 pounds in Franklin County alone, said Denise Johnson, program manager.

Source: Ohio State University
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