As inflation bites, the community invests in food security – The Columbus Dispatch | Team Cansler

Chaleah W. never expected to turn to the Mid-Ohio Food Collective (MOFC) for help. Chaleah, a college grad with two daughters, was until recently a longtime elementary school substitute teacher.

“I was at this school for two years, had my own classroom, created my own schedule and lesson plan,” Chaleah said. “I only get paid for the days I work, but bills keep coming in the meantime.”

Chaleah is far from alone. Thousands in central Ohio need help as inflation has soared. In response, public and private organizations are working together to ensure food security.

A wave of hunger

“We are seeing unprecedented demand, well beyond what we saw even at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Matt Habash, President and CEO of MOFC. “Many of our neighbors are making the often difficult decision of asking for food, and for thousands of families it is also the first time they are asking for help.”

Matt Habash, President and CEO of MOFC.

Since early 2022, MOFC has served more than 150,000 launch customers in its 20-county service area, enough people to fill Ohio Stadium, Nationwide Arena and Lower.com Field. Overall, food demand is 25% higher than in 2021. Last year, the food collective distributed nearly 75 million pounds of food, which equates to approximately 170,000 meals a day. Habash expects that by the end of the current fiscal year, MOFC will have served more families than ever before.

“We are grateful for the support we receive from our generous and compassionate community,” Habash said. “Our corporate partners, like Nationwide and the Nationwide Foundation, have been instrumental in helping us meet the needs of the community.”

Columbus-based Nationwide companies are donors to the private, non-profit Nationwide Foundation, which focuses on child well-being, social and economic empowerment, crisis stabilization and food security. The Nationwide Foundation contributed $5 million to MOFC’s 2022 capital campaign while Nationwide employees volunteered more than 7,900 hours to hunger relief organizations across the country, including 4,800 hours to hunger relief organizations in central Ohio.

MOFC has seen an increase in community members in need of food assistance in central Ohio.

From the farm to the table

“Nationwide has its roots in agriculture, so we have always recognized the critical importance of food security,” said Nationwide Foundation President Chad Jester. “Since 2000, the Foundation has donated more than $585 million to nonprofit organizations across the country that serve critical community needs through a significant presence of Nationwide employees.”

Beyond Ohio, Nationwide Foundation works with Feeding America, a collection of more than 200 food banks coming together to ensure food security. The organization served more than 6.6 billion meals in 2021. The foundation began working with Feeding America in 2009 and has donated more than $20 million to their cross-national efforts.

Distributing food to starving families is vital, Jester said, but as climate change makes it harder to grow crops, raise animals and catch fish using traditional methods, new ideas for food sourcing and production are needed. The Nationwide Foundation has worked with Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) for years to improve the safety of the food supply chain.

The State of Ohio and the Foundation announced their latest effort in September, the creation of the AgTech Innovation Hub. The AgTech Innovation Hub, made possible by both organizations through the CFAES, will be a center for research and development of new agricultural solutions and mitigating climate risks, said Ohio State President Kristina M. Johnson, Ph.D time of announcement.

“Agribusiness is at the forefront of the fight against climate change. Farmers are not only significantly affected by the negative impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, they can – and must – play a key role in reducing them,” Johnson said. “This partnership will help establish best practices to protect both our food supply and our environment for future generations.”

Nationwide has committed up to $2 million in initial funding to identify and implement initiatives for the AgTech Innovation Hub, with plans to provide additional funding and resources in the future. While the foundation is excited to help with local and national efforts, Jester said more and more help is needed.

“It’s incredibly helpful to give back to your community, either by volunteering at your local charity or by making a cash donation,” Jester said. “When a community works together, food security becomes a reality.”

Visit mofc.org to volunteer or contribute to the Mid-Ohio Food Collective.

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