The lights turned orange Thursday at South Amherst village hall to spread awareness of the hunger crippling our region.
Mayor Dave Leshinski agreed to shine the orange light — symbolizing hunger — to mark September as Hunger Action Month at the request of Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Ohio.
“It is the time when people start turning their thoughts in the next few months to hunger issues before you get involved in the noise of the holidays,” said Second Harvest spokeswoman Susan Bartosch. “It’s a transition time. People start thinking about it when going back to school.”
Her organization distributed 8.2 million pounds of food last year in Lorain, Erie, Huron, and Crawford counties, with ours receiving the most attention.
There is some good news: While Ohio’s hunger insecurity rate is 16.8 percent, in Lorain County it’s dropped to 14.3 percent. The metric measures how many people don’t know where their next meal will come from.
“We’ve actually moved our dial down,” Bartosch said.
Much of that can be attributed to the employment picture. Second Harvest serves mainly those who are jobless, underemployed, or in a gap between jobs.
It’s harvest time now and Bartosch said her nonprofit is finding partners among farmers who give extra pallets of corn and other vegetables. Second Harvest’s new Baumhart Road headquarters in Lorain makes is much larger than its old location, making it possible to accept such gifts. In fact, the facility boasts a produce cooler seven times as large as its old one.
Also helping fight hunger are local backpack programs, which provide students with nutritious food to take home over the weekend.
The Leo Club at Steele High School launched a backpack initiative a year and a half ago, working with the Amherst Food Bank at Good Shepherd Baptist Church. Bartosch said the student-led effort has expanded and recently received a donation from Main Street Amherst to help continue feeding hungry teens.
Distribution of backpacks is anonymous except to school officials, who make sure they get into the right hands.
That helps lighten the stigma of asking for help, Bartosch said: “They don’t want to have a big spotlight on the fact their family is struggling.”
Second Harvest expects to also fill 75,000 backpacks this year across its four-county area.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.