County food alliance filling the need

MIAMI COUNTY — For nearly two years, the Miami County Food Insecurity Alliance (MCFIA) has focused on getting food into the hands and homes of Miami County residents in need.

The next local food distribution “pop-up pantry” will be from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Upper Valley Career Center in Piqua. The Shared Harvest Food Bank started the “pop-up pantries” in June 2019 and the MCFIA joined them in their efforts to efficiently place food into the hands of those in need.

The number of households being served by the monthly food distribution has grown. Its first distribution helped 45 families in June 2019 and the group had a record number of 1,270 in April 2020.

In 2020, the Shared Harvest and MCFIA served a total of 7,572 households, which included 16,149 people.

Alisha Barton, an Ohio State University extension office educator for Miami County, and Health Partners Free Clinic social worker Aimee Shannon shared how the pop-up pantry program has grown over the last year.

Barton said the Alliance is made up 102 local agencies, nonprofits, and community members that serve food insecure individuals in the area since December 2018.

Included on the board are representatives from local participating agencies such as the health department, health clinics, law enforcement, the women’s abuse shelter, local pantries, soup kitchens, youth organizations, Job and Family Services, addiction recovery, faith-based organizations, local schools, elected officials, the food bank, and community members. MCFIA is an official nonprofit recognized by the state of Ohio in 2020.

Shannon said as long as Shared Harvest is able to provide the food needed for these types of pantries, they will continue to hold the monthly distributions.

”We are lucky to have lots of volunteers that help with the program, so as long as Shared Harvest is with us we are prepared to meet this need,” Barton said.

The pop-up pantries are staffed by volunteers and emergency food needs can be met as well.

In 2020, for several months, the pop-up pantries had assistance from the Ohio National Guard during the peak of the pandemic.

Shannon said, “The National Guard was amazing. They taught us a lot about how to efficiently organize the distributions and to use volunteers.”

Barton said, “We always welcome volunteers! They are a big part of how we accomplish this each month. We have several jobs for our volunteers to choose from. They can help unload trucks, load food into cars, or take some basic information from the pantry patrons.”

For those who would like to donate, Barton encourages people to donate money to a local food pantry or to the food bank that serves the local area, which in Miami County is Shared Harvest.

Barton said Ohio has 12 large food banks. Each food bank serves a specific area. Shared Harvest Food Bank, housed in Fairfield serves the counties of Miami, Darke, Warren, Butler, and the part of Preble not served by the Dayton Food Bank.

Barton encourages those who are interested in learning more about the Shared Harvest food bank to check out their website at www.sharedharvest.org.

“Looking on the Shared Harvest website you’ll find a list of their values; respect, stewardship and accountability, collaboration, urgency, service, and integrity. I personally love what Shared Harvest has inscribed on all the boxes of food they pass out; hunger is not a choice, giving is,” she said.

Barton said for every dollar donated to Shared Harvest, eight meals are provided to those in need.

“If you are looking to volunteer or give financially, donating to the food bank that serves your area will help your local neighbors who are dealing with hunger. Our food banks are important to our communities. Together across America, foodbanks distribute 4.3 billion meals a year through local pantries and meal programs and lead our nation in fighting hunger,” Barton said.

The Shared Harvest distribution differs from local food pantries to serve all in need in the line in about two hours.

”We are designed for efficiency,” Barton said.”Because of this, we cannot embrace the choice model that the pantries do. Our boxes are prepacked so we can serve everyone as quickly as possible.”

Shannon shared how the pop-up pantry program has helped those in need, including the elderly.

When delivering a pop-up pantry box to an elderly shut-in named Helen, she shared how it was something as simple as chocolate milk that touched this woman’s life.

“Helen wasn’t one to buy herself something like chocolate milk, but she was excited to have it. And she shared with folks that it was the best thing she’s ever tasted. She coveted that chocolate milk from Shared Harvest,” Shannon said. Helen passed away, but Shannon said she’s comforted knowing that the woman “had moments of pure pleasure while drinking that divine chocolate milk.”

The MCFIA not only connects residents with food once a month but around the clock. Shannon shared how the alliance works together to ensure those in need can be helped at a moment’s notice.

Recently, a local man who had no access to transportation, $16 a month in food stamps and a monthly income of $770 was in need of food. He would walk to First Place Food Pantry on Lincoln Street in Troy and volunteers would help drive him home.

The delivery folks gave him Shannon’s number to call to get set up for future distributions at his home. Recognizing his need was urgent, Shannon was able to pull together a box of produce, juice, meat, and shelf-stable food from her office at Health Partners and a nurse practitioner delivered it to the man.

“He was surprised and so very grateful. I was grateful that our delivery folks cared enough to find a way to help this gentleman. And we’re all grateful for Shared Harvest ensuring this food is here in Miami County and can get in the hands of those who need it,” Shannon said.

For more information or to donate, visit www.sharedharvest.org.