Akron resident Kim Humphrys cradles her 1-year-old daughter in one arm as she stuffs potatoes into a plastic bag with the other.
Drew, her 6-year-old son, weaves between volunteers in the stockroom at the Good Neighbors food pantry. He hands a cardboard crate to his 3-year-old sister, Ella, who helps her mother supply cans and dried goods for the community’s needy.
Good Neighbors on Goodyear Boulevard in Akron was among 460 shelters, food pantries and hunger-relief programs bustling with volunteers before Thanksgiving. Humphrys, who usually volunteers with her sister and father, brought her three children to lend a hand Wednesday.
She also donated six turkeys so that needy families could enjoy a proper Thanksgiving.
“I feel bad,” she said. “We should have brought more.”
For Christmas, she’ll donate a couple of hams.
Humphrys and other volunteers at Good Neighbors serve about 20 to 25 families each day in the first two weeks of the month. But because food stamps run out toward the end of the month, the pantry served about four times as many families the day before Thanksgiving.
According to the Map the Meal Gap project published by Feeding America, a national hunger-relief charity that donates to pantries like Good Neighbors, 91,280 Summit County residents, or about one in six, are “food insecure,” meaning they lack access to food or adequate nutrition.
Michelle Hinton, a spokesperson for Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, said the number of families serviced in its eight-county area has steadily increased by 3 to 5 percent each year since about 2008.
“Hunger doesn’t take a vacation or timeout,” Hinton said.
The number of families Good Neighbors served jumped more than 60 percent between 2009 and 2011, from 6,043 to 9,850. The number is expected to fall slightly for 2012.
While need continues to increase, Hinton also said that donations made during the two-month holiday season account for 40 percent of all annual donations. What food banks and pantries receive in the next month determines how much each can give in the coming year.
“This time of year is extremely critical for the food bank,” Hinton said.
The regional food bank’s goal is to distribute 21 million pounds of food this year. Hinton said it is on track to do that, but securing funds for next year will take a concerted effort in the coming month.
“We’re kind of just holding our breath from week to week,” she said.
Searching for deals
At Good Neighbors, George Camilletti checks the Ohio Food Bank and the U.S. Department of Agriculture about three times a day for deals.
In a storage area in an adjacent building, Camilletti looks out over 800 cubic feet of goods piled 4 feet high. This particular pile was gathered during school food drives.
“We’re very, very grateful,” he said.
Food drives provide free goods, but they account for only 4 percent of all assistance, according to statistics the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank provided. About 36 percent of funding comes from federal and state governments. Another 34 percent comes from local donors. The remaining funding comes from networks, hunger-relief organizations and other food banks.
Camilletti keeps the shelves stocked with the essentials year round. He buys nonperishables, like peanut butter and egg noodles, by the hundreds of pounds when they are available.
Camilletti said he can load about 70 cases of Smucker’s peanut butter, each containing 12 jars, into his van. But with families getting a jar a month, keeping up with demand is a constant job — and can strain the pantry’s $38,000 budget.
“That’s 850 jars of peanut butter a month. So these cases don’t last too long,” he said.
The items that are most needed at the shelter are the ones that food stamps and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) cards won’t pay for, Camilletti and others at the pantry said. Among those items are toiletries, personal hygiene products and soap.
“These people on the SNAP program can go in and buy filet mignon or lobster,” Camilletti said, “but they can’t buy soap or toilet paper.”
For more information on the regional food bank, go to www.akroncantonfoodbank.org.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.