June 30, 2016

Partly sunny

Removing hurdles for the hungry: Changes to help food charities

MEDINA — Changes this year will make getting food to Medina County’s families easier.

Medina County Job and Family Services has announced it will use some funds to pay for food that will go to local food pantries. In addition, local groups have arranged for the Akron Canton Regional Food Bank to make direct deliveries of food twice a month to the department’s offices at 232 Northland Drive.

This fall, the state will remove a work requirement for the poor to receive food stamps.

Job and Family Services Director Mead Wilkins said the changes are aimed to help the poor “get better service with fewer barriers. We’re not trying to have them go through unnecessary hardship.”

The county’s changes are part of a larger effort organized by county Commissioner Pat Geissman and others. Geissman headed a task force last year that examined the county’s 29 food pantries. That group helped set up the Feeding Medina County Initiative, which is running projects to feed the county’s poor.

Geissman said the latest developments will keep the movement on track.

“It will certainly help what we’re trying to do, which is feed Medina County residents,” she said.

Money for pantries

Wilkins said his office has about $5,000 in state Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds left from last fiscal year, which ended in June. He said that money can be used to cover food pantries’ bills from the Akron Canton Regional Food Bank for July and August.

Seventeen local pantries are members of the food bank. That means they can receive food to distribute to their clients. Some of the food there is free, but some of it comes with a price tag of about nine cents per pound.

“So it’s really a good deal, but even at nine cents, there’s still pressure with come up with that at any kind of volume,” he said.
He noted the funds come with stipulations, such as recipients must be below a certain income level. However, food pantries who are members of the Akron Canton Regional Food Bank already ensure their clients meet the same conditions.

Closer to home

The Akron Canton Regional Food Bank soon will be dropping off food in Medina.

Wilkins and Cindy McQuown, director of the Feeding Medina County Initiative, met with food bank President Dan Flowers on Monday.

The three arranged two monthly food drop-off events in Medina County. Flowers said the food bank will deliver between 10,000 and 15,000 pounds of food at each drop-off. He said the food distributed generally will be perishable products like vegetables and bread, which need to get to people quickly.

“It’s kind of a rapid distribution system,” he said. He noted that since they’re perishable, they’re generally the most wholesome foods available.

The first drop-off is expected to be in August at the job and family services offices. A specific date hasn’t been set.
Wilkins said one of the drop-offs each month eventually may take place in Seville or Lodi.

“There are more people in poverty in the southern third of the county than anywhere else,” he said. However, a location for the southern drop-off hasn’t been selected.

Flowers said the food bank is happy to help. It identified Medina County as an “underserved” county in its strategic plan in 2009. He said that’s right around the same time Geissman’s Food Pantry Task Force started meeting.

“It’s really great the conversation started in Medina the same time the conversation happened here,” he said.

Food stamps

Wilkins said as of October, families who receive food stamps no longer will have to participate in the agency’s work program because the state waived the requirement.

To get benefits, recipients now have to put in about 20 hours of work a month for a local manufacturer in a job and family services program. Wilkins calls this “a barrier to stop people from using food assistance” because those who receive the benefits usually have a tough time getting transportation and child care during these times.

He said it also drains a lot of the agency’s funding because it takes time to find work placements and transportation for the people in the work program.

“Agencies are under so much pressure. It’s a hurdle that we once had to jump through that we’ll no longer have to jump through,” he said.

Only certain people qualify for food stamps. Most recipients must be at least 130 percent below the poverty level. Elderly and handicapped people must be at least 200 percent below the poverty level.

People who receive cash assistance, or welfare, still must complete a work requirement, Wilkins said.

Food truck

The Feeding Medina County Initiative’s new food truck will be on display at the Medina County Fair, which starts Monday.
Geissman said it will be a good opportunity to let people know about the coordinated efforts to feed those in need locally. The truck will be used to pick up local food pantries’ orders at the Akron Canton Regional Food Bank.

The truck was purchased with donations, but Geissman said more is needed to operate it and to fund other Feeding Medina County Initiative projects.

“If everyone who came to the fair could drop off $1, just think what people will do for Medina County residents in need,” she said.

Contact Maria Kacik Kula at (330) 721-4049 or mkacik@medina-gazette.com.