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Communities Solving the Food Crisis in Ohio

May 6th, 2020

Facing one of the nation’s fastest-growing issues, Ohioans are finding inspiration in their motto ‘With God All Things Are Possible’ to help create a better future for their local communities. In an attempt to stem the tide of Ohio’s rapidly increasing poverty and food insecurity rate, local universities, food banks, churches, volunteers, and other social service organizations are developing grassroots solutions to solve the problems where they are happening.

Ohio’s poverty rate currently stands at 14 percent, while nearly 1.6 million Ohioans sit at or below poverty the line. Most startling of all is that number includes one out of every five children. According to Ohio’s Association of Foodbanks, more than 1.75 million Ohioans are food insecure and do not know where their next meal is coming from.

Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio is trying to change that. In 2018, the University launched an initiative called Campus Cupboard, a mini food pantry for students facing food insecurity. The pantry was created in conjunction with the Pastor’s Office, the Hagen Center, Urban Engagement, and Student Development, with the goal of no student on campus, ever going hungry. The four organizations, along with Wittenberg’s faculty and staff, donate food and hygiene products to the Cupboard. Products include non-perishable food items that students can prepare back at their apartments, dorm rooms, or off-campus housing. They also offer snacks that students can grab on-the-go. Students can use the pantry anonymously as not to feel embarrassed and to protect their privacy. 

The absence of a local grocery store means even more than the difference between a healthy meal or processed snacks. The logistics of getting to the store and bringing the groceries home can be a struggle. And for the disabled, elderly, and low income, this struggle may be insurmountable. 

Thankfully several communities around Ohio are stepping up to support their most vulnerable. Walnut Hills had to find creative ways to provide food and support to those in need when in 2016, the local grocer, national chain Kroger announced they would be forced to close their doors due to low sales, Walnut Hills residents found themselves with no local resource for food, water, and hygiene products – and Walnut Hills became an official food desert. 

Queen City Kitchen, a soup kitchen and food pantry, has been a staple of the neighborhood since 1976,  is open weekdays for a hot meal and offers two meals on Saturdays. Clients can also grocery shop from the current pantry items, items found in full-service grocery stores. In 2019, over 600 clients took home groceries and 56,000 hot meals were served. And in January of 2020, Queen City KItchen served 4,316 hot meals.  

Ora Daniels is helping to bring a farmers-market like feel to the neighborhood. Her goal is to meet the urgent need for greater food access while also providing a culturally-relevant experience for the Walnut Hills community. The Noir Market consists of predominantly black entrepreneurs selling foods and goods to the largely  African-American community of Walnut Hills. Daniels hopes to expand the market in the coming months with a larger base of food vendors and live music. 
The Open Door Ministry, established in 1973 as a ministry of the Episcopal Church of the Advent is also providing groceries for vulnerable residents with a food pantry and free breakfast cafe. The neighborhood remains hopeful that a major grocery store will come into the community, but until then Walnut Hills and other neighborhoods like them are pulling together with empathy, generosity, and innovation, creating a more fulfilling society.

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