This is not a list to make Ohio proud — the state now ranks third nationally for very low food security.
The hunger problem is out of control, said Julie Chase-Morefield, executive director of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Ohio.
“I think it shows the depth of poverty in Ohio and the issues we are dealing with,” she said of a new report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The study showed that between 2012 and 2014 an average of 16.9 percent of Ohio households — nearly 4.8 million people — didn’t have easy access to nutritious meals.
Another 7.5 percent of homes in the state had “very low” food security, meaning multiple family members, usually adults, had to give up food so others could get the bare essentials.
According to the USDA, in most of those households the adult said in the past year they were hungry and did not eat because they did not have enough money for food.
The United States average for food insecurity was 14 percent over the past three years. Averages for food insecurity ranged from 8.4 percent in North Dakota to 22 percent in Mississippi.
By that measurement, Ohio ranks sixth nationally for the highest rate of food insecurity behind Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, and Texas, the Ohio Association of Foodbanks reports.
“We have a serious crisis in Ohio,” said OAF executive director Lisa Hamler-Fugitt in a written statement. “More of our families than ever before are struggling to afford food as the economic recovery fails to reach everyone in our state.”
Chase-Morefield said Second Harvest has seen residents’ food needs rise steeply over the past decade.
Second Harvest has more than tripled the number of clients it serves in that time.
According the U.S. Census Bureau, 15.8 percent of Ohio residents between 2009-2013 were below the poverty line. That tally is at 14.6 percent in Lorain County.
A 2014 report from Feeding America showed Second Harvest and its partner agencies serve clients 12,600 times a week and 655,800 times annually.
The majority of people seeking hot meals and help at food pantries are children and seniors, Chase-Morefield said.
Among all the clients, 32 percent are children under 18 years old and 21 percent are seniors 60 and older, said Feeding America’s report.
Chase-Morefield attributes the state’s high ranking to unemployment, often by layoffs or termination.
“It takes a long time for someone to come back from those kind of issues,” she said.
Lacking adequate food can affect long-term health, she added.
Hamler-Fugitt said food insecurity in Ohio has not only surpassed the Midwestern states but has skyrocketed compared to what is being seen nationally.
The fight is not new. Hunger has been an increasingly serious issue for years, Chase-Morefield said. “This is not something that happened overnight,” she said. Our readers should be deeply concerned about how high Ohio is ranked on this list.
“We are on a dangerous trajectory as more families and communities have come to regularly rely on our emergency food network for help when their stagnant wages can’t keep up,” Hamler-Fugitt said.
Valerie Urbanik can be reached at 440-775-1611 or on Twitter @ValUrbanik.
Valerie Urbanik | Civitas Media
Barbara Brown helps stock shelves at Oberlin Community Services, where food donations are always needed.