Mahoning Valley agencies work to feed children during holidays

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Christmas is just two days away, and while many people are busy thinking of the last items on their to-do lists, some here in the Valley are thinking about where their next meal is coming from.

Fifty-three percent of children in Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties are eligible for free and reduced lunches at school. And, more than 31,000 children in the tri-county area are at-risk for hunger — that’s one in four children.

The Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley says hunger is a growing problem in the community, but it can be very hard to see — you can’t always tell if someone is hungry. And, having kids at home during holiday breaks can put an extra financial strain on families.

“Children eat a lot, especially when they are growing,” said Sister Jean Orsuto, executive director of the Emmanuel Community Care Center. “The cost of food is quite high, and when you have to buy cereal, or bread, or juice, or things for sandwiches that you don’t normally have to buy.”

The Second Harvest Food Bank has several programs in place to help meet the gap when children are not in school to receive meals.

There are 1,200 students who take part in the food bank’s backpack program. Qualified children receive a bag of food every Friday during the school year to eat over the weekend and long breaks.

“Our first backpack program started in 2007 at Campbell Elementary School. We were getting reports from nurses that students were rushing the breakfast line. One student indicated that all he had to eat over the weekend was mayonnaise and saltine crackers, so we knew then that we had to try to do something to meet this need,” said Second Harvest Food Bank Resource Development Manager Becky Miller.

The food bank just received $10,000 from the Dominion Foundation to support a new food pantry program at Youngstown Community School to help this growing problem.

Last year, the food bank distributed a record 9.5 million pounds of food in the tri-county area. Miller said the 2015 numbers are not official, but she believes that the organization has hit at least that number again this year.

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