Area food pantries fear SNAP cuts

By Laurie Hamame -

A radical overhaul of the country’s core food assistance program could leave food banks across Lorain County stretched thin.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps, helps about 46 million low-income Americans put food on the table.

President Donald Trump’s administration is seeking to reduce the SNAP budget by $213 billion over the next 10 years. Under the proposal, people who receive at least $90 a month — just over 80 percent of all SNAP participants— would get about half of their benefits in the form of a meal box.

It would include a medley of cheaper peanut butter, shelf-stable milk, juice, grains, cereals, pasta, beans, canned meat, and canned fruit and vegetables selected by the federal government instead of the people actually eating it.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that switching to “harvest boxes” would contribute to $130 million in savings while still feeding the hungry.

Currently, SNAP beneficiaries get money loaded onto a card they can use purchase food at authorized grocery stores or local businesses.

At Second Harvest Food Bank, headquartered on Baumhart Road in Lorain, food lines the shelves of a warehouse from floor to ceiling — but it’s still not enough to feed everyone in need

President and CEO Julie Chase-Morefield is worried that the looming federal decisions could expose pantries to even greater demand.

The cuts would cripple the way food is distributed to families, Chase-Morefield said March 28 during a county commissioners meeting.

Through a network of churches, community centers, and schools, Second Harvest provides meals to 10,500 people per month.

Commissioner Matt Lundy was startled to hear the statistics surrounding food insecurity in the county.

“It’s heartbreaking when you hear how many families live with anxiety every day,” he said. “When I’m hungry, I’m hungry. I have to eat. I can’t focus on anything else. How can we expect kids to focus at school?”

County officials passed a resolution urging federal legislators to rethink “the harmful cuts and changes” to the budget.

“It is ridiculous,” commissioner Ted Kalo grumbled. “This current administration. It’s ridiculous.”

Chase-Morefield said the 47 pantries in the county are unprepared for an increased demand. They simply do not have enough staff to meet all the requests. “The food pantries really are maxed out on what they are able to do,” she said.

Hannah Rosenberg, food service coordinator at Oberlin Community Services, said she received an email from Second Harvest urging all partner charities to take action. It was to be the topic of discussion at a board meeting.

Nita Swiers, food chairman of First United Methodist Church in Amherst, relies on Second Harvest for 95 percent of food donations.

“There’s not much we could do about (the cuts),” she said. “We could gear up and try to have more food drives, but I try not to worry about this stuff because it tends to have a way of working itself out. This community really comes together when there is a need.”

Well-Help in Wellington serves roughly 5,000 people per year. Grappling with an sharp increase is “a worry for everybody,” said coordinator Bernie Raab.

“We’re good right now. What the future holds, I don’t know,” she said.

Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.

By Laurie Hamame