In Stark County, more than 57,000 people—including 19,760 children—are considered food insecure, meaning they lack consistent access to nutritious food. To fill the gap, they rely on bags of free groceries, backpacks filled with food and hot meals from churches and other volunteer-based organizations.
“It is all over,” said Amy Weisbrod, executive director of the Stark County Hunger Task Force. “We’ve got pantries in North Canton and Jackson and Louisville and Alliance and Minerva.”
The Stark County Hunger Task Force offers support to local pantries, runs a backpack program that gives school-aged kids food to take home for the weekend and houses its own emergency food pantry.
The task force is a partner organization with the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank.
Unlike a pantry, which stores food for people to come pick up, the food bank collects food, sorts it and then distributes it to 500 organizations offering relief to hungry people in Stark County and beyond.
Dan Flowers, president and CEO of the food bank, said some of the people who need food aren’t able to compete for employment, but others are working and still struggle.
“There is a big food-insecure population in Stark County and around the region that is not eligible for (public) benefits of any other kind, but they still live close enough to the line that they don’t know where their food is going to come from,” he said.
Some people are hungry because they work a seasonal job and get laid off. Others are struggling to make ends meet and then are hit with a high utility bill or a medical bill. Senior citizens are a vulnerable population because they’re often on a fixed income. An unexpected health crisis or a car accident can bring someone to a food pantry.
Recently, Weisbrod spoke with a grandfather who asked for extra assistance during a month because it was back-to-school time. He takes care of his grandchildren and was juggling paying for supplies and clothes on top of food. She initially was surprised, thinking that kids returning to school would help with the budget, since they’d be getting breakfast and lunch for free.
“It was just something that opened my eyes because I’m thinking purely of the food assistance world,” she said.
Flowers said misconceptions about the people who visit food pantries abound, but one of the more common ones is that people take advantage of the system. His statistics for Stark County for the month of August show that families visited food pantries served by the food bank an average of 1 1/2 times a month.
Weisbrod hears the same complaints.
“Just that stereotype of, they’re probably misusing the service,” she said. “You come and volunteer in my pantry, and you will never say that again. These are not people misusing the system. They are truly struggling to put food on the table and survive.”
To meet all of the food needs in the county would cost an additional $27.5 million, according to an estimate from Feeding America, a national network of food banks committed to ending hunger.
Volunteer opportunities include working at a pantry as a personal shopper for a family, sorting food in a warehouse or assisting with paperwork.
Flowers said the food bank hopes to distribute enough food within the next 10 years to fill the hunger gap and that eradicating hunger at a resource level is a realistic goal.
“It is 100 percent achievable,” he said.
Pat Gates is the volunteer coordinator at the Alliance Community Pantry, which relies on local donations and the
Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank for support.
What is the mission of the pantry?
“To get good food to the people in our local area for no cost.”
How many hours do you volunteer a week?
“Not that many. I put in an hour or so making the schedules … one day a month, I’m a screener, and one day a week, I stop in and make sure they have enough help.”
How did you first become involved with the food pantry?
“Well, the way I first started was Kiwanis used to do a day, I believe it was every month, where we would hand out food … and so Kiwanis was very instrumental in getting the food pantry started because they said this once a month wasn’t feeding people enough and (the people coming for food) didn’t really get a choice. Our pantry is called a choice pantry because they get so many points, and they get to use those points and choose what food they take. … I started volunteering otherwise just one day every month or so just to help, and then my friend who was the president of the board said, ‘Hey, Pat, we need somebody to take care of getting volunteers, and all it is get on the computer and sign people up.’ Oh, well, that’s easy. (Laughs.) It’s not that easy.”
What’s your job with the pantry?
“Once I get them signed up and they’re there every week, I make calls (and) say, ‘Hey, what’s good this week? Can you work this week?’ and have kind of become friends with a lot of them so they know they can trust me and so they know they need to call me if they’re not there. … I have to have at least 12 to 15 people there on every shift.”
What would you say to someone who is considering volunteering in the same capacity?
“It’s very heartwarming. It’s eye-opening, certainly, to see the need. Almost always, the people who receive the food are so grateful and so thankful. There are so many people that have made great friends down there when they’re volunteering … so there are a lot of people who just say, ‘Oh, I miss it when I’m not here.’ ”
350 Opportunity Pkwy, Akron
The food bank accepts donations, stores food and distributes it to organizations in eight counties that serve people who are hungry. The food donated to the food bank reaches people through 500 organizations in Northeast Ohio.
Alliance Community Pantry
215 E Market St., Alliance
The pantry lets clients select what food options they want, and the amount they can take depends on the size of their family. Clients may take food every two weeks.
Alliance First Assembly of God
45 E Harrison St., Alliance
The church offers free food staples once a month.
Canton Calvary Mission
1345 Gibbs Ave. NE, Canton
The mission offers free meals, a food pantry and an after-school at-risk snack program for children. It also provides a backpack weekend meal program for children.
Canton Friendship Center
2200 Cleveland Ave. NW, Canton
The friendship center has a food pantry once a month and offers food during its social program. The programs at the facility are aimed toward people who have mental or physical disabilities.
Catholic Charities Serving Portage and Stark counties
800 Market Ave. N, Canton
The Canton location offers an emergency food pantry.
4915 Fulton Dr. NW, Canton
Community Harvest takes uneaten food prepared for hospitals, restaurants and catered events and gives it to hunger relief organizations. Following some events held during the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival this summer, more than 5,400 pounds of leftover food were recovered and donated.
Crossroads United Methodist Church
120 Cleveland Ave. SW, Canton
The church offers a pantry that is open to residents of certain ZIP codes. Proof of residency is required. There also is a free hot breakfast served on Sunday mornings.
at Kountze Memorial Lutheran Church, 930 S Nickelplate St., Louisville
The community cupboard opens two days a month to offer groceries to people who need them. Proof of Louisville residency is required.
Meals on Wheels of Stark and Wayne counties
2363 Nave Rd. SE, Massillon
Meals on Wheels delivers food to people who are unable to leave their homes. The cost is $5 per meal.
Minerva United Methodist Church
204 N Main St., Minerva
The church operates an emergency food pantry that’s available by appointment. Clients get a three-day supply of food.
North Canton Church of Christ
1301 E Maple St., North Canton
The church delivers snacks to schools in Canton, Plain Township and Alliance and hosts food giveaways twice a month.
Refuge of Hope
405 Third St. NE, Canton
Refuge of Hope serves family-style free hot meals Monday through Saturday.
The Salvation Army
Multiple Stark County locations:
420 Market Ave. S, Canton, 330-453-0159
315 Sixth St. NE, Massillon, 330-833-6473
57 W Main St., Alliance, 330-823-5188
301 Valley St., Minerva, 330-868-5808
The Salvation Army offers soup kitchen meals and runs a food pantry.
Sherrick Road Church of God
1121 Sherrick Road SE, Canton
The pantry is available by appointment only. On Fridays, the church also distributes backpacks full of food for children for the weekends.
Stark County Hunger Task Force
408 Ninth St. SW, Canton
The task force is a network of more than 30 pantries throughout the county. The organization also runs a weekend food backpack program for children.
Zion Lutheran Church
349 Lindy Lane Ave. NW, North Canton
The church offers a food pantry to North Canton residents. Proof of income and proof of residency are required.