COLUMBUS: More than one in six Ohioans are struggling to put food on the table, with many turning to unhealthy items to fill the gap in meals, according to a new report on hunger.
The data from the food-bank network Feeding America found that about 2 million Ohioans have received food assistance this year through the state’s emergency food network of pantries and other agencies. That’s a 40-percent increase from the organization’s last report in 2010, which found that 1 in 8 Ohioans were getting emergency food help.
“We would have hoped that the worst was behind us,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.
The association represents 12 Feeding America food banks. The group released the state data from Feeding America’s national report at a news conference Thursday.
The study involved interviews with 6,694 Ohio clients, along with 1,829 partner agencies in the state that provide food assistance.
Many residents reported unreliable access to affordable and nutritious food, with 81 percent saying they purchased cheap and unhealthy items to help themselves cope.
Of those who sought assistance in the past year, seven of 10 said they had to choose between paying for food and their utilities. About two-thirds said they had to choose between food and medical care or medicine.
Matt Habash, the president and CEO of the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, said given the numbers in the report, hunger and poverty should be viewed as a crisis.
“We’re talking about our neighbors,” Habash said. “We’re talking about families, we’re talking about friends.”
The food bank association plans to request $20 million per year in the state’s next two-year budget to address the increased demand. The money would help to provide an additional 35 million pounds of Ohio-grown food that the food banks get through a program with local farmers, Hamler-Fugitt said.
“Is it enough? No,” she said, adding that conversations about the request would likely continue with the next General Assembly.