Mission director talks of need to combat hunger

STEUBENVILLE – The Rev. Ashley Steele knows firsthand about hungry people in Jefferson County.

The executive director of Urban Mission Ministries helps coordinate monthly food distributions from the mission warehouse that has long lines of people waiting to receive their monthly distribution of basic food supplies.

Steele will join representatives from the Mid-Ohio Food Bank as well as school, church and social agency officials to discuss hunger in local communities and how to resolve the issue during the first of five conversations Thursday at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Wintersville.

“The Mid-Ohio Food Bank has been organizing these meetings throughout Ohio. They have wanted to start the conversations here to discuss hunger in Jefferson and Harrison counties. They have been e-mailing and calling different organizations and people, and I have been reaching out to people inviting them to attend the series of conversations about hunger in our communities and how we can stop it,” explained Steele.

The first conversation will be held starting at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at the lower level of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church. Subsequent meetings are set for March 28, April 11 and 25 and May 2 at the church.

“It will be a two-hour meeting with a lunch served to the attendees. We hope to have social agencies as well as private individuals. I don’t know what will happen but this is a start. Everyone is invited to be part of the conversation if they have a desire to help feed people in an efficient manner. I hope people who experience hunger firsthand will join us. We also need schools, government officials and churches to join us for these conversations,” stated Steele.

“This issue cannot be resolved by one organization alone, but rather by communities of organizations and people who are committed to not letting individuals and families go hungry. We want to strengthen existing relationships and develop new relationships to end hunger,” she added.

“I have said this before but we see a growing number of people coming through the doors at the Urban Mission warehouse seeking help every month. We need to talk about what we can do to lessen that need. People and organizations need to work hand in hand,” Steele said.

“Nearly one in three children in Jefferson County is food insecure. Eighteen percent of Harrison County residents and 18.6 percent of Jefferson County residents live below the poverty line. Food pantries in Jefferson and Harrison counties responded to nearly 66,000 requests for assistance in 2011,” cited Steele.

“This initial meeting will be the start of the conversation. We will be given statistics on the hungry in Ohio and in our communities, and we will discuss cases of hunger. Our followup meetings will be centered on resolving the issues,” noted Steele.

Steele said Urban Mission Ministries will join the United Way of Jefferson County and Mid-Ohio Food Bank to start the conversations about hunger in Jefferson and Harrison counties.

“Mid-Ohio is the contact organization. We are simply the hands and feet on the ground in Jefferson and Harrison counties. Any conversation about ending hunger is a good conversation. When you meet people who are struggling with hunger, you have a better understanding of their case,” said Steele.

“I have always wanted to get people around a table to talk about hunger in our community. This is the beginning of that conversation, and I am excited,” said Steele.