Terry Perdue is executive director of Shared Harvest Foodbank, a United Way partner agency. He views the start of the new year as “a terrifying time. The need (for food) is still greater than what it was pre-pandemic.” And after plateauing over the summer, the number of families seeking help is rising again.
The challenges of the new year arrive even as the struggles of last spring remain fresh in everyone’s mind. When businesses shut down and the ranks of the unemployed rose sharply, “We started seeing an astronomical number of people seeking help,” Perdue says. Indeed, the year before the pandemic, Shared Harvest typically served 200 families at a single drive-through food distribution. In May 2020, that number ballooned to 1,500 families.
“United Way was the first to call out of the blue (and say), ‘We’re giving you $60,000. Do what you have to, to make sure people have the assistance they need.’ I was so grateful.”
Shared Harvest was able to meet its emergency needs in the spring in part because of money it received from the COVID-19 Regional Response Fund, as well as an early allocation of the food bank’s monthly stipend from United Way. Shared Harvest collects and distributes surplus food to about 90 food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters in five Ohio counties. The funding that Shared Harvest gets from United Way is designated for Middletown, where the food bank has 14 partner agencies and meal centers.
Since March 2020, Shared Harvest has relied on members of the Ohio National Guard to help pack boxes and distribute food. That assistance has been extended through March 2021.
What is troubling, though, is that Shared Harvest recently lost two significant sources of food. Farmers to Families Food Boxes, a federal program that distributes agricultural products to families in need, ended on Dec. 31. In addition, the food bank no longer receives products the U.S. government bought from farmers during the trade war with China.
Perdue takes all that into account against the backdrop of a lingering pandemic, and he can’t help but worry whether Shared Harvest will have the resources to fill the needs of the communities it serves.
What’s certain, though, is that United Way of Greater Cincinnati will continue working hard to help the Greater Cincinnati region recover and revitalize.