In the Mid-Ohio Valley we have several options for food pantries and food banks, all available for individuals and families to utilize when they need it. This month a new location is available to Athens County residents, the Lutheran Social Services Mobile Food Pantry.
The first LSS Mobile Food Pantry took place on Thursday, January 14 and will continue to be operated the second Thursday of every month from 12 p.m. until 2 p.m. at The Plains United Methodist Church, located at 3 N. Plains Rd., The Plains, Ohio. Clients have access to all of the normal food choices based on the USDA food groups, including fresh produce, and they are able to “shop” from a small selection of items, choosing what brand or flavor they want in the quantities allowed.
“We think the choice model is very important for several reasons: one, it’s more respect and dignity for the person being served because it’s more like a shopping experience; two, you’re able to select food that you know how to prepare, and that you know your family enjoys and that you’re definitely going to use; and third, we base the number of choices that people get in each category on the USDA food dietary guidelines, so we know when folks leave it’s a balanced set of nutrition,” said Brad Draper, Lutheran Social Services of Central Ohio corporate director of food pantry services. “What we have on the shelves will actually change every month that we come down based on what we get available, so that adds some variety into people’s diets.
LSS comes prepared to distribute food to 150 families and asks that clients pre-register for the Mobile Food Pantry ahead of time by calling their hotline (see section below on how to register). Individuals and families are able to select from a variety of food including cereal, pasta, fruits, vegetables, protein and, on this special occasion, each family went home with a whole frozen roasting hen, which remained from LSS’ Thanksgiving event.
For the first Mobile Food Pantry, the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Community Health Programs community clinic van was on-site to offer free health screenings. The screenings offered for clients will test for lipid panels (cholesterol with fasting or non-fasting options), blood sugar and blood pressure. Patients are offered a comfortable exam room, which looks like an actual physician’s office and is surprisingly roomy, and education components if their screening numbers are out of range.
“Patient results are immediate, it takes about six minutes for the longest exam,” said Stacy Wright, registered nurse and Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine community health coordinator. “Clients get a copy of their results, so they can take them back to their physician and share those results.”
The Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Community Health Programs schedule is still being finalized, but they hope to offer this service as often as possible at the monthly Athens LSS Mobile Food Pantry.
There were about 20 volunteers helping out at the first Mobile Food Pantry, and I spoke to Natalie Bellamy, from the local branch of People’s Bank in The Plains, about her volunteer experience.
“I didn’t really know what to expect, but after getting here today, this is awesome,” Bellamy said. “You can just tell that they just feel like they are shopping, just like they would in a grocery store. Because we’re not actually handing them anything, all we do is tell them how many they can get, and then they get to pick it out and put it in their cart and take it to their car, or wherever they are going. I think usually sometimes the food is handed to them, or already packaged, or it’s already put in a bag, and they might not want everything they get, but this way, they get to pick out exactly what they want and you know they will actually use it.”
The first Athens LSS Mobile Food Pantry served over 87 families, and expects that number to continue to grow as the word spreads.
According to Jennifer Hamilton, the director of communications at the Lutheran Social Services of Central Ohio, 49.4 percent of people in Athens County live at 200 percent or below the federal poverty level, which means they qualify for food pantry assistance. This statistic is tied for the highest in the state of Ohio. In this county, 20.5 percent of the population of Athens County is food insecure, which means 13,310 people, of which 2,880 are children, lack reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.
“The Ohio counties with the highest poverty levels are all in the southern or southeastern area of the state,” Hamilton said. “Hunger is real in these areas, as it is in many areas, and the LSS Food Pantries are committed to getting nutritious food into the hands of as many hungry people as possible. Our goal is not only to feed people, but to provide fresh produce that can help our many clients who suffer from serious, chronic health conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, the effects of which could be greatly improved by a healthy diet.”
The monthly LSS Mobile Food Pantry is a free service provided to Athens County residents, including Ohio University students, who qualify. To be eligible, individuals and families must reside in Athens County and have income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Anyone requesting food pantry services must call toll-free at 1-877-704-3663 to register for each distribution beginning one week prior. The phone lines are open from 8 a.m. to p.m. on Monday through Friday.
The next Athens LSS Mobile Food Pantry will be held on Thursday, February 11, 2016.
How can you help?
We know that those of you in the Mid-Ohio Valley have huge hearts, so for those wanting to know what you can do to become involved, here are a few options.
For anyone would would like to volunteer please reach out to Mark McPherson, mobile pantry manager, at 740-503-6787 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Food donations are accepted and can be dropped off at the site during the distribution (see date, time, and location above). Financial donations are always welcome and allow LSS Food Pantries to maximize the amount of food they are able to distribute. According to the organization, LSS Food Pantries can provide two meals for every $1 donated. To donate, please visit their website at lssfoodpantries.org.
Claire is a native West Virginian and currently resides in Ohio. She received a Bachelors degree from Marietta College and a Masters from West Virginia University and is the Media Relations Specialist at the Ohio University Scripps College of Communication in Athens, OH. She loves art, the outdoors, creativity, and anything communications related.
Photography by Claire Berlin