• 39°

County will fight for more supplies

Slightly more than 600 Lawrence County residents receive commodities each month.

Friday, September 10, 1999

Slightly more than 600 Lawrence County residents receive commodities each month.

Yet the state’s Emergency Food Assistance Program, administered by the Ohio Department of Human Services, lists more than 22,000 individuals, or 635 families, who qualify for commodities.

"There is not enough food to meet the need – there just isn’t," said state human services specialist Jeanne Barcus, who spoke at Thursday’s Lawrence County Commission meeting.

Responding to township trustees and constituents who complain about a shortfall in commodity distribution, the county requested state officials attend the meeting – to see if commodity shares could be increased, commissioner Paul Herrell said.

"There are 160 people at the high rise who cannot get to the place (in South Point) where they can get their fair share," Herrell said. "We need to see a distributor set up in the city to take care of some of these people."

Decatur Township trustee president Garold Cox told commissioners that residents there must travel to Symmes Township, and usually arrive too late to get their share.

"Somebody needs to wake up and realize we’re here in Appalachia and people on (close to) no income can’t get to the commodities they deserve," commissioner George Patterson said.

Ms. Barcus said the problem lies in how the program has changed in the last 10 years.

The original commodity program started out with a mission to hand out federal cheese, butter and other food surplus.

When federal warehouses were depleted, people had begun to rely upon commodities and a grassroots effort convinced Congress to fund the program each year. However, the amount of commodities dwindled considerably, Ms. Barcus said.

"In the past, Lawrence County received two tractor-trailer loads, that met the need now, it’s one quarter of a tractor-trailer load," said Tina Osso, executive director of Shared Harvest Foodbank, which distributes the state’s 4 percent share of commodities to Lawrence and 19 other counties.

"There is nothing fair about this," Ms. Osso said. "This is the only federal program that just because you’re entitled doesn’t mean you will get it."

Commissioners and township trustees requested more commodity distribution areas, in each township, for instance, and said they will seek congressional help to increase the amount of commodities Lawrence County receives.

Most metropolitan areas have extensive networks of food pantries, which distribute the commodities to those who need them the most, but rural areas like Lawrence County still use a mass distribution system, Ms. Barcus said.

Because residents must travel, and they start lining up at 6 a.m. for commodities, many who need them miss out, Herrell said.

"I’m open to suggestions," Ms. Osso said. "I don’t know a better way of stretching the small amount any further."

The old system of handing food out in each township would mean even less food per distribution center, she said.

There is homebound delivery available, Ms. Barcus said.

"But when you have 100 families in line to receive and someone is saying, ‘I need food for 30 people at the high-rise,’ what do you tell the 100?" she said.

"When the cheese went away, we had a hard decision," Ms. Osso said. "Where can we locate distribution in Lawrence County that will be the easiest access to the majority?"

The county’s six sub-distributors are located in Coal Grove, Fayette Township, Lawrence Township, South point, Symmes Township and at the Millwright union hall in South point – the most central areas to the population qualified for commodities, she said.

But that means Ironton residents must travel to South point, and some township residents must make 20-mile trips just to be turned away, Herrell said.

"If someone is unable to get there, they can send a note, their identification and income verification to receive commodities," Ms. Osso said.

As far as an increase in the amount of commodities, southern Ohio legislators might have a tough road ahead convincing their federal colleagues, the state officials said.

Shared Harvest and ODHS have worked to increase funding for commodities, succeeding with a $90 million to $99 million boost this year, Ms. Barcus said.

But that’s just a drop in the bucket, she said.

And a congressman has introduced legislation the last two years to double the funding, with bipartisan support, but it failed both times on the House floor, Ms. Osso said.

"Solving Lawrence County’s problem means solving a nationwide problem and society has said, ‘We don’t care about people who can’t feed themselves,’" Ms. Osso said.

So, commissioners are urging a letter campaign to convince federal legislators to increase funding, Herrell said.

In the meantime, those who cannot travel can use the note system to receive commodities, he said.