Social service agencies struggle with surging Youngstown poverty rates

A new study by the state of Ohio found poverty in the Youngstown area increased from 24 percent to almost 40 percent

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – More children, elderly and young adults in Youngstown are living in poverty.

That’s according to a new study released by the state of Ohio. 

The study discovered that the percentage of people living in poverty in the Youngstown area increased from 24 percent to almost 40 percent. That happened in just 15 years.

The study says 23,000 people in Youngstown make less than the federal poverty limit. That’s about $1,000 a month for a single person or $2,000 a month for a family of four.

That number is before taxes are taken out. After payroll deductions, people have even less to pay bills and buy food.

That is putting pressure on lots of social service agencies.

Last year, the Second Harvest Food Bank distributed 10.5 million pounds of food — the most ever.

“We see the need increasing, so our goal is to go out and find more food to bring into the area so we can get it out to people in need,” said Michael Iberis, the agency’s director.

For the past 30 years, Lucille Hames has been running the food pantry at St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church in Campbell. She took over after a nun asked for help.

“She asked me if I would take over, and that’s how I ended up with this job. I didn’t realize it was going to be a lifetime job,” she said.

Hames has seen more budget-strapped people coming for food over the years.

It started helping two or three families a week, but then it grew to more than 100 families at every monthly event. In addition to the now 80 families registered for monthly delivery, Hames also helps with emergency needs.

“Emergency basis, people move, we are here quite a bit giving out food in between also,” she said.

The church started offering a hot meal at every food pantry event. That way, people can stretch the donated food even further.

It’s not just food pantries that are feeling the hit from higher poverty rates. It’s impacting the schools, too.

Mary Cohan is the homeless grant coordinator for Youngstown City Schools. She makes sure homeless kids stay in school in the hopes of breaking the cycle of poverty.

“I think education is the key to that. Any child who succeeds in school can go on to further their education and break that cycle,” she said.

Cohan said she doesn’t think that the situation will improve anytime soon, however.

Already, there are twice as many preschoolers living in rescue missions than in all of the last year.

U.S. Census Bureau Ohio Poverty Rates comparison

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