MENTOR, Ohio. Bringing food to the table is putting pressure on many Northeast Ohio families. According to the United Way of Lake County, nearly a third of the population in Lake County currently struggles to meet basic needs.

This figure includes more than 27,000 adults and 7,000 children who are already food insecure. About 8 percent of the county’s population is below the poverty line. Another 23 percent are on the verge of this line.

“Hardest hit are low- and middle-income households that do not benefit from any federal nutrition programs or any nutrition programs at all,” explained Tami Lewis, United Way of Lake County (UWLC) director of marketing and communications. .

She said most of the organization’s more than 30 local pantries are seeing increased demand for food aid.

“It used to be a fight between, ‘Am I getting medicine or food?’ Now it’s just, “I can’t afford anything,” says Denise Dwarning, pastor of Vineyard Community Church, which runs a weekly grocery pantry serving 150 to 175 customers.

On Thursday, the church pantry was among those receiving food donations from the UWLC during the organization’s largest annual food giveaway. Between Thursday’s deliveries and another trip in May, food was distributed totaling $87,000.

“We will need more and more donations to help people,” Dwarning said. “They’re talking about cutting SNAP benefits, they’re cutting COVID benefits, so it’s only going to get worse.”

The federal COVID-19 Emergency Declaration temporarily expanded the Supplemental Food Assistance Program (SNAP). Ohio received about $120 million a month in emergency food assistance for approximately 700,000 Ohio residents. Many states, including Ohio, are planning to end extended benefits when the US lifts the public health emergency.

On average, Americans could lose $100 a month in food aid once the changes go into effect.

“Food warehouses are expecting the problem to get much worse and they won’t be able to meet the demand,” Lewis said.

Mary Ennis Davis, a volunteer at the McKinley Community Outreach Center, added: “We suspect the summer could be very, very busy for us.”

COVID-era relief could end when inflation rises to a 40-year high. Food prices rose nearly 12 percent last year.

“When you go to a regular grocery store, you go without a lot of what you usually get because of the cost with inflation and the pandemic. Everything is getting more expensive. You just do what you have to do to make ends meet,” said Darlene Adkins.

She currently feeds a family of four and helps her elderly mother get extra food. Eastlake’s family income is just above the threshold for SNAP benefits, and Adkins said she relied on monthly help from the McKinley food pantry.

“We have cut a lot. But we have a son who was also very sick this year, so it was very hard. So this place was heaven sent,” she explained.

Prior to inflation-related uncertainty, the UWLC stated that $1 in donations could buy up to 4 meals. With prices constantly changing lately, Lewis said it’s hard to quantify how far the dollar is moving, but she said it’s not as far as it used to be.

“Now we need so much because of inflation. People are just struggling to put food on the table,” she said.

The UWLC and the organizations it serves rely on donations to support the Lake County community. You can find more information on how to support the United Way and its mission at Press here. You can also donate by texting UWLC100 to 44321.

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