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Second Harvest asks counties for a share

YOUNGSTOWN — Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley is approaching county commissioners in Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties to ask for COVID-19 relief funds.

It’s a proactive measure: Although the height of the pandemic might be past, the food bank sees an opportunity with COVID-19 relief funds to ensure there is assistance as people continue to make requests for food.

At the same time, Second Harvest is using portions of a $3 million gift to address partner agencies’ aging equipment, as well as food and looking at serving underserved areas, its executive director Mike Iberis said.

“We’re asking for COVID money for our pantries for the purpose of only food,” Iberis said. “This gives the commissioners an opportunity to invest in the pantries that service the people in their county all year long.”

Last year, for example, Trumbull County commissioners gave Second Harvest $100,000 from relief funds, and every penny stayed within Trumbull County, he said.

“We used that money to bring in food for the traveling pantry at the Trumbull County fairgrounds, as well as in the Mecca community and Yankee Lake,” Iberis said.

LOOKING LOCALLY

Throughout 2020, the food bank’s more than 100 member agencies asked if any monetary relief was coming. Now, Second Harvest is turning to county leadership.

A list of all the pantries in each county is being provided to commissioners, with a breakdown of how much food was distributed, along with requests.

Last year, Second Harvest saw a 40 percent increase in food distribution. While that has now decreased, the output is still 25 percent above the pre-pandemic level, Iberis said. So far this year, 3.5 million pounds of food have been distributed.

Last year, 15 million pounds were distributed, and 11 million in 2019, which had been a record-breaking year.

Mahoning County saw the most food distributed out of its 53 pantries and one meal site, with 6,979,000 pounds of food. There were nearly 300,000 requests for food made.

Trumbull County, with its 37 pantries and three meal sites, distributed 4,953,000 pounds of food, and saw 299,146 requests.

Columbiana County had 3,730,000 pounds of food distributed in its 24 pantries, with 126,604 requests.

GIANT GIFT

In December, Second Harvest received $3 million from MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Amazon chief executive officer Jeff Bezos.

A portion of that gift — about 25 percent — is going toward addressing aging equipment. Agencies submitted infrastructure needs in the first quarter, Iberis said. “They’re working with worn-out tools.”

Now, Second Harvest is in the process of ordering the equipment, namely coolers, freezers and pallet jacks, for example.

The purchases will be done with local businesses in the three counties, too, Iberis said.

The rest of the money will go toward food and development of a program.

“Our intention is to make sure that money will go toward a sound purpose … To accommodate the purpose we exist for and that’s to feed people,” Iberis said.

In the third quarter, the food bank will look at underserved areas and if a pantry needs to be added, a mobile effort will happen, “as long as the need is there,” Iberis said.

TOP RECOGNITION

For the work the charity does, it was recently once more put into a national spotlight.

Charity Navigator ranked Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley in the top 15 percent of all charities in the country.

“Our transparency and our efficiency got us to that,” Iberis said.

The local food bank received a four-star rating, which in a letter signed by Michael Thatcher, president and chief executive officer of Charity Navigator, “will enhance (the) organization’s fundraising and public relations efforts.”

The letter, dated April 1, states the food bank has received its four-star rating for five consecutive years.

Second Harvest is included in 11.5 percent of star-rated charities to have four stars for at least five continuous years, Thatcher said by email to the newspaper.

“This adds Second Harvest Foodbank of the Mahoning Valley to a preeminent group of charities working to overcome our world’s most pressing challenges,” he said.

That esteemed rating will let people “trust that their donations are going to a financially responsible and ethical charity when they decide to support” the food bank, Thatcher said.

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