While local agencies are attempting to aid those struggling in today's economy, officials with the Mid-Ohio Foodbank in Columbus are doing their part to bring some type of relief to area families.
The food bank, which is the largest of 12 banks in Ohio, focuses on 20 counties throughout the state, with outreach counselor Brian Taylor serving Jefferson, Harrison, Belmont, Guernsey, Monroe and Noble counties.
Taylor's position entails visiting various sites in the Ohio Valley and determining who is eligible to receive food stamps. The Richmond resident also determines if families can obtain help through the Home Energy Assistance Program.
Taylor's findings have shown the local need is tremendous.
Administrators at the Jefferson County Department of Job and Family Services reported 12,080 people were eligible for food stamps, otherwise known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, during a one-month period.
In addition, a recent gap study provided by the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Food Banks found there are approximately 4,000 additional residents eligible to receive food stamp assistance, but do not.
On average, Taylor noted he visits with approximately 110 contacts about various programs, and pre-screens about 41 applicants a month for food stamp eligibility, of which at least 13 applications are accepted. Last year Taylor helped obtain a total of $12,614 a month or $151,368 for the year in S.N.A.P. benefits for those in his jurisdiction.
Taylor noted the guidelines to receive assistance are continually changing and those who may not have been eligible to obtain help before may reapply and be accepted.
Two of the sites Taylor visits are the Mingo Senior Center and the village's Municipal Building.
Mingo Social Services Director Sophie Schoolcraft explained she "cannot say enough" about Taylor and his work.
"I think Brian is one of the nicest people I have ever met," Schoolcraft began. "He does so much to help so many. He takes his time with people and is so knowledgeable, explaining to them what exactly they need to qualify for help."
She noted he visits Mingo at least once a month and keeps all applications on file so (people) can reapply later if they do not currently qualify.
"You don't know how important it is for him to come here," Schoolcraft concluded. "Some people do not think they are eligible, but Brian does such a solid job that he has helped people who never dreamed they could get help."
Bruce Hitchcock, director of the Urban Mission, also is a believer in Taylor's work.
Taylor visits the Steubenville mission on a regular basis, and the downtown facility provides ample space for him to conduct his interviews.
"We support the Mid-Ohio Foodbank and Brian in his work and we also believe that food stamps are the first line of defense in fighting hunger," Hitchcock said.
Hitchcock noted the Urban Mission gave away 900,000 pounds of food last year and in addition served 16,500 hot meals to local residents.
"You can see the need is really, really large in our area," Hitchcock continued. "We are not the only place which prepares meals and gives food to residents, though. There are 20 other places in the county that do that - and the Mid-Ohio Foodbank supports most of them."
Hitchcock said the mission is overwhelmed and cannot meet all the need out there today.
"But it helps us, the county and the food bank, when we support a guy like Brian whose major task is to get people on food stamps. We stand behind the program," Hitchcock added.
He noted Betty Ferron, director of Jefferson County Department of Job and Family Services "does more than anybody for hunger in this area."
The Urban Mission perhaps ranks second in aiding hunger locally, he added, followed by area churches, food pantries, the Salvation Army and ministries.
Hitchcock noted that eight years ago when he first started in his position that 500 bags of food were distributed. He said in December 1,200 bags of food was dispersed.
"So you can see the sense of where we're at right now," he stated. "If I have the opportunity to provide Brian space to get people on food stamps then I'm going to do that to feed the hungry," Hitchcock said. "I doubt very seriously if people actually realize the severity of the hunger problem here in Jefferson County. It's huge."
Taylor will be visiting the following sites throughout the month of February:
Smithfield Food Pantry - 9 a.m. to noon, Thursday.
Mingo Junction Municipal Building - 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday.
Urban Mission - 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday.
Beacon House - 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 19.
Those wishing to schedule an appointment at the Mingo Senior Center should contact Schoolcraft at (740) 535-9161.
Those interested in receiving assistance can complete an application and bring it with them as well as a rent or mortgage statement/receipt; utility bills, including electric, water and gas; and all income verification. Applicants who are disabled or age 60 or older also should show proof of current medical expenses.
Officials have asked that an appointment be made prior to the dates in order to give an approximate meeting time; however, an appointment is not necessary. For information or to request an appointment or inquire about other services, contact Taylor at (877) 633-3660.
The Mid-Ohio Foodbank saw record food distribution in 2009, according to officials. A record 33,986,690 pounds of food were distributed, a 6 percent increase from 2008. At the same time, the number of people seeking food assistance had risen faster than the supply of food.
More than 40,000 individuals receive emergency food assistance every week from a food pantry, soup kitchen or emergency shelter served by the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, according to officials, and the food bank distributed 1,469,770 pounds of food to Jefferson County and 423,819 pounds of food to Harrison County last year.
(Ghrist can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)