The Beginning: Focus on Food
The Ohio Association of Foodbanks began as a collaboration between Ohio’s foodbank directors in the early 1980s during the development of the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP—which now stands for The Emergency Food Assistance Program). The USDA had a surplus of dairy and other commodities purchased to stabilize agricultural markets, and TEFAP was created as a way to direct the surplus to people in need. In 1985 Ohio’s foodbanks began working with state government agencies to develop a program to distribute the TEFAP commodities in Ohio. The food would go to regional foodbanks, who would distribute it to the soup kitchens, food pantries, and homeless shelters that serve hungry people.
Even in the best of times, the amount of commodity food available was generally insufficient to meet the needs of hungry Ohioans. In 1991, the directors of Ohio’s 12 foodbanks formalized their collaboration and created the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. Housed at the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, the association worked to garner political support for Ohio’s foodbanks and to stretch dollars through consolidated food purchasing. By purchasing food and distributing it to the emergency food network through the regional foodbanks, Ohio’s foodbanks were able to purchase, on average, four meals with just one dollar.
This shared buying program allocated and distributed shelf-stable food and protein items to foodbanks. Today, it is called the Ohio Food Program.
In 1999, the association began a statewide effort to direct Ohio’s surplus and unmarketable agricultural products through the network of foodbanks. This effort would ensure that families had a source of nutritious, fresh produce, and prevent unnecessary waste and loss in the agricultural industry. Today, it is called the Ohio Agricultural Clearance Program.
The Next Step: Growth and Innovation
In 2001, Lisa Hamler-Fugitt became executive director. Under her leadership, the food program budget has grown from $2.5 million in its early years to $19.75 million in state fiscal year 2016. Today, the association receives support from public, private, foundation, and individual sources.
Recognizing that hunger is a symptom of poverty, the association began to look for ways to address the causes of hunger and help people move from food lines into grocery store lines. In 2006, the association became the home of The Ohio Benefit Bank™ (OBB). The OBB™ began as an effort to reduce poverty by making the benefit application process easier to navigate. Today, it is implemented in partnership with the State of Ohio, four federal agencies, eight state agencies, and more than 1,300 faith-based and community organizations.
AmeriCorps VISTA members serving at regional foodbanks in the first years of the OBB trained new OBB counselors and expanded the program. Since then, the Ohio Association of Foodbanks national service program has grown to be the largest in Ohio.
Today: More Need Than Ever
For more than 20 years, the Ohio Association of Foodbanks has advocated for equitable public policy at the state and federal levels to decrease hunger in Ohio, working with partners to inform policymakers, media, and other stakeholders about the issues facing low-income Ohioans. In 2010, the association collected more than 30,000 paper plates with messages from Ohioans who count on Ohio’s emergency food network and whose voices are not often heard in the statehouse or the halls of Congress.
The economic downturn in 2008 brought new challenges as more people who have fallen out of the middle class and into poverty seek assistance from Ohio’s emergency food providers for the first time. The association continues to work to meet the growing need, while looking to the future for new and innovative ways to end hunger in our state.