FREMONT – Larry Faist always tries to keep the Sandusky County Food Pantry well-stocked with food orders.
It’s become an increased challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic, owing partly to difficulties in getting food orders from normally reliable grocery stores, combined with heightened demand from the county’s neediest residents.
Faist, the food pantry’s purchasing agent, usually does the bulk buying for the pantry.
He used to get a lot of food that the pantry ordered from Kroger and Aldi.
Recently, he’s placed orders for cases of rice, corn and green beans that haven’t shown up for weeks.
“They just say it hasn’t come in,” Faist said.
Faist had been relying a lot on the Toledo Northwestern Ohio Food Bank, which visits Fremont a couple of times a week.
Demand at the pantry’s Bidwell Avenue location has really stepped up in recent weeks, Faist said.
“I think people have run out of their stimulus money and now people are coming to us to fill in the gaps,” Faist said Wednesday, as he helped fill up a cart of food items for a resident.
On a typical day, an average of 15 referrals come by to pick up free food items.
Nicole Henry, Janice Longanbach and Nancy Hellmann volunteered at the food pantry Wednesday.
On the pantry’s shelves are lists, with the amount of food distributed dependent on the size of the referral’s family.
The three women rolled a cart through the pantry’s food storage room and picked out canned goods, bread and meat to place in distribution boxes, while residents waited at the front window to receive their food items.
Henry, a United Way of Sandusky County staff member, said she had distributed food to 10 referrals during the day.
“I did 32 last Monday,” Henry said, noting that a lot of those were for people with five or more family members.
Faist said the food pantry handled 2,500 referrals in 2020 and served 7,800 people.
He called the number high, although Faist wasn’t sure if it reached the numbers recorded during the Great Recession.
This year started out slow at the food pantry, in terms of referrals, but began to rapidly escalate in recent weeks, Faist said.
The Ohio Association of Foodbanks, which includes the Toledo Northwestern Ohio Food Bank, projects that 18.1% of Ohioans experienced food insecurity in 2020 (up from 13.9% in 2018) and that more than one in four children in Ohio (27.1%) will live in food insecure households (up from 18.9% in 2018).
According to the association each month, foodbanks are serving from 120,000 to 150,000 more Ohioans than were served pre-pandemic.
Lynette Kirsch, Share and Care’s executive director, said her organization primarily gives out gift cards to homeless people that they can redeem for food at places such as McDonald’s and Down Thyme Cafe.
On average, Share and Care distributes between 10 and 25 gift cards a month.
Kirsch said the city’s homeless people generally can’t take a traditional bag of groceries with them, which makes the gift cards a more practical way to get them food.
Share and Care also delivers hygiene crates, filled with paper towels and other items, to the homes of area families in need.
“They’re people on our watch list that we know struggle a little bit,” Kirsch said.
Faist said the food pantry could use donations of rice, instant mashed potatoes and canned fruit.
Information on the pantry and donations can be found at sanduskycountyfoodpantry.org.
This article originally appeared on Fremont News-Messenger: Sandusky County Food Pantry seeing greater need during pandemic