Nonprofit spotlight: Hunger Task Force

For one in six of Stark County residents and one in four Stark County children, this is the reality of many nights throughout the year, numbers that are greater than the average in Ohio and nationwide.

Hunger — an emotion, a feeling, a basic need we all feel once or twice a day. Have you ever had to go to bed, to work or to school with those feelings for days at a time?

For one in six of Stark County residents and one in four Stark County children, this is the reality of many nights throughout the year, numbers that are greater than the average in Ohio and nationwide.

The mission of Stark County Hunger Task Force is to raise funds to provide adequate food for those who need it.

“With the current economic times, we are seeing a high rate of first-time pantry visitors,” said Eric Smer, executive director of the Stark County Hunger Task Force. “Folks who once contributed monetary or food donations are now unemployed or underemployed and need to ask for our help.”

The agency funds and supports a network of more than two dozen food pantries across Stark County. Pantry visitors are met by volunteers who verify client eligibility and provide critical food assistance to more than 15,000 Stark County residents each month.

Recent months have set records of more than 22,000 served. The Stark County Hunger Task Force has been serving Stark County since 1981, when it served 3,000 pantry visitors. It has seen a 600 percent increase in services — with a staff of one full-time and one part-time employee.

The agency often is asked how it is able to do what it does. While the complex answer includes management of more than 500 volunteers, grant writing, community solicitations, inventory controls, logistics and supply management, the simple answer is because of the great support of Stark County’s residents, businesses, churches and schools.

A tremendous example of this generosity is demonstrated by Dr. Michael Linz, who has created an annual Guest Sommelier Night with the help of his medical colleagues and John and Jerry Jacob at Bender’s Tavern, Smer said. The fifth annual evening of art, wine, food and charitable giving will be Feb. 4 at Bender’s. The event raised $10,000 last year.

STARK COUNTY HUNGER TASK FORCE

WHAT: A network of food pantries working to fight hunger locally in Stark County.

BOARD MEMBERS: Lisa Vitale, president; Shirley Cavender, vice president; Theresa Donato, treasurer; Redda Latona, secretary; Dr. Cheryl Blankenship, Kirsten Boswell, Jason Colon, Stef Fakelis, Debbie Horn, Michael Lemon, Sherri McKinney-Frants, Kathy Meneses,Yvette Otterman,Terri Patterson, Maris Sumser, Pamela Walton and Jennifer Werstler.

PROCEEDS: Benefit the hungry in Stark County.

DONATIONS: Nonperishable foods are accepted Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Goodwill Community Campus, at 408 Ninth St. SW in Canton. Financial donations can be sent to the Stark County Hunger Task Force at PO BOX 20941, Canton, OH 44701. The task force accepts monetary contributions; nonperishable boxed and canned goods; fresh fruits and vegetables; grocery store gift certificates; gas gift cards for food transportation costs. Call 330-455-6667 for more information or visit www.starkhunger.org.