Agencies Aid Those Living in Old Housing in a Food Desert - The Business Journal

With inflation placing bigger burdens on those served by community nonprofits, leaders are finding ways to handle food and housing needs.

More senior citizens than ever are heading to a food pantry to supplement what they can no longer afford to purchase, according to Mike Iberis, executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley. Food pantry stock levels are down but hopefully are recovering, he added.

“Senior citizens are finding it much harder to manage a food budget based on inflation,” Iberis said, noting some of them have been retired for more than a decade and their dollars just are not stretching as far as they once did.

In addition to price increases, a reduction in SNAP benefits is creating more hurdles for those living in the Mahoning Valley, according to Rose Carter, executive director of Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods (Action).

“That’s the challenge we have because we’re in a food desert,” Carter said, “and it looks like we’re getting deeper with the cuts that the government has made to our most vulnerable people, which are people of color, low- to moderate-income and, of course, our elderly.”   

Organizations like Action, Second Harvest, the Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership and others are trying to do as much as they can to fill the increasing needs. Additionally, Carter said it is important to make sure people are not just eating, but also have the means to eat healthier.

Action operates a Mobile Market Truck, which gives people a place to shop for healthy fare. Jeff Magada with Flying High and Grow Urban Farm makes certain many of the foods available on the truck, such as meat and eggs, are locally sourced. Additionally, Carter said they strive to keep the food prices lower than stores where people in many neighborhoods have to travel to reach.

To make the food even more affordable, Carter said Mahoning County and Mercy Health gave them vouchers that can provide those who qualify with $25 per program per month. But the Mobile Market is not just for those needing financial assistance.

“Anybody can shop on our truck wherever the truck is,” Carter said. “So it is not just for the most vulnerable. It is for anyone, because we’re all in a food desert. … It’s a grocery store on wheels.”

With the assistance of commissioners and the city of Warren, Carter said a second, even larger truck soon will be operating in Trumbull County.

Another organization helping residents in that area is the Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, which operates the Warren Farmers Market seasonally to provide fresh produce in the region.

Additionally, the partnership works with small corner stores that help to provide neighborhoods with healthy foods.

Likewise, Ian Beniston, executive director of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., which concentrates some of its efforts on the Glenwood Avenue corridor, said part of that effort is the Glenwood Fresh Market. With about 2,000 member clients participating, there were 13,823 unique visits to the Fresh Market in 2022.

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