LORAIN — One of Northeast Ohio’s largest food drives that covers 21 counties kicked off Wednesday evening at Second Harvest Food Bank.
Director for external affairs Susan Bartosch said Harvest for Hunger, a collaboration with the Cleveland, Akron-Canton and Youngstown food banks, is a grass-roots effort that organizations as small as Girl Scout troops and as large as whole companies participate to raise money and food.
“We get a lot of business during the holidays,” she said. “But we’re at the point in the year where we’re starting to see a major dropoff in donations. People think about donating food during the holidays, but they don’t think about it as much during the spring. But people still have to eat.”
Second Harvest board chairman Paul Adair said everyone in the area knows someone who is struggling with hunger, making the event all the more important.
“I have a bunch of statistics I could read, but everyone knows the story and about the scourge we have in our community,” he said. “Hunger is a visible beast that is tackling one in four in our service area. Last year, Harvest for Hunger raised over $2.5 million and 400,000 pounds of food that stayed in Northeast Ohio.”
Second Harvest CEO Julie Chase-Morefield said the organizations want to make 2017 the biggest drive so far.
“This year we have nearly 115 worksite campaigns, and we are looking at campaigns from old friends like Macy’s and Invacare, Ohio Edison and Northwest Bank,” she said. “We also have some new faces this year like the Ford Ohio Assembly Plant and the Lorain Public Library system. It’s important to remember every dollar donated allows us to distribute four meals.”
Cynthia Hawkes, front-end team leader at the Amherst Giant Eagle, said her store raised enough food and money last year to supply 143,000 meals for the fundraiser and wants to beat that this year.
“We all have loose change, whether it’s in our pockets or in our cars or in between our couch cushions, and it’s amazing that for every dollar you donate, you generate four meals, so I thought, ‘Let me see how much loose change I can find,’” she said. “I found about 20 meals. So I made a jar for our team members to see how many meals we can generate from loose change. We want to change a life.”
Hawkes said the store also will host a pasta fundraiser later in the year along Main Street in Amherst along with a candy bar sale and chili cookoff.
The Lorain County Office on Aging is one of the organizations that benefits from Second Harvest and the Harvest for Hunger drive. Executive director Rita Campbell said food security is one of the biggest concerns among area seniors.
“A lot of people are just on Social Security, so we have two general food banks, and a third is for parents taking care of grandchildren,” she said. “We have about 20,000 kids on our roster there that will stay on until they turn 18. They can select what the kids will eat. The kids will come, and they’ll be happy to be there and see that they’re cared for.”
Honorary chairman of the drive and president of the Ohio region of Northwest Bank Kevin Nelson said the road ahead is going to be a long one, but it’s something he wants to take seriously because of its effect on people’s lives.
“One person can’t do it alone. It takes a team,” he said. “Hunger is a sneaky opponent. It can disguise itself as a seemingly normal household, but on the inside it dominates. Locally, it can hide in a child’s eyes. It hides in the elderly, who have to choose between their medications or food.”