Commissioners name recipients of nearly $1 million in food aid

Jason Davis adds items to the grocery bags as Rena Davis tells him how many members are a part of the family she is speaking to. Asha Blake/ The Portager.

Portage County’s Board of Commissioners learned in February that the federal government was cutting SNAP’s Emergency Allotment program at the end of the month. Appalled, they took matters into their own hands.

They couldn’t change the federal government’s policies, but they could, and now have, made sure almost $1 million of county ARPA funds will benefit county food programs.

An earlier plan had the money being allocated to area nonprofits, but when he learned of the SNAP cuts, David Shea, director of the Community Action Council of Portage County, had another idea. He petitioned the commissioners to withdraw his application, saying local food programs needed it more.

Knowing the federal government also cut universal access to free school lunches as of June 30, the commissioners agreed. Funding for summer food programs will run out on Sept. 30, they learned, due to cuts to pandemic-era spending.

The money will be sent in installments over three years. Set to receive grants are:

  • Ben Curtis Foundation’s The Birdie Bag Program: $150,000
  • Family and Community Services’ Center of Hope, Kent Social Services, and Skeels-Mathews and King Kennedy Community Centers: $150,000
  • ImPACKting Ravenna’s Kids’ Raven Packs: $130,500
  • AxessPointe Health Centers’ AxessPointe Food Pantry: $97,500
  • Brimfield Community Cupboard: $97,500
  • Community Action Council of Portage County’s CAC ARPA Backpack Program: $63,622
  • The Haven of Portage County Homeless Shelter: $62,400
  • Streetsboro Community Pantry: $46,800
  • RSA Food Shelf: $42,900
  • The Salvation Army’s Portage County Food Pantries: $39,000
  • Rural Relief Mobile Food Pantry: $37,500
  • Catholic Charities Serving Portage and Stark Counties’ Catholic Charities Food Pantry: $23,400

County grants administrator Hope Bonos said all the organizations that applied for funding were approved. 

The commissioners targeted programs that focus on children, with the Ben Curtis Foundation and ImPACKting Ravenna’s Kids (Raven Packs) receiving over 80% of what they requested and others being awarded just over 60% of their requested amounts, Bonos said.

From here, the Portage County prosecutor’s office will review the agreements each recipient will receive. Each food pantry or program will present the commissioners with receipts for all foodstuffs they purchase and can expect to be reimbursed within a week or two, Bonos said

“I am glad that we’re able to help those folks in need in the county during these trying times, with inflation and the cost of everything going up,” County Commissioner Sabrina Christian-Bennett said. “I am so glad we were able to get this done. Some of the most vulnerable people — women with children, senior citizens, working poor folks will be majorly impacted.”

Diane Jones, a co-director of the RSA Food Shelf, said her organization serves about 80 Atwater, Suffield and Randolph families a month and is seeing new clients every week. Families are permitted to receive food on a monthly basis.

“We are very happy!” Jones said. “What a wonderful thing! That is going to help us immensely, to be able to help our people.”

Because the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, which provides much of RSA’s food, sometimes lacks items the RSA needs, Jones said she is glad the allocations are structured as a reimbursement program. Now, she said, RSA staff will be able to get what they need from the food bank and from other sources.

Having recently completed construction of its own building on Waterloo Road in Randolph, Jones said the county funds will enable RSA to spend what it needs on maintenance and utilities and still have funds to complete its mission of feeding those in need.

“It’s really good news, and we can now start budgeting as to how we will spend the money. It will really, really help us!” said Anne Arbuckle, board president of the Streetsboro Community Pantry.

The Streetsboro Community Pantry is located in the lower level of Streetsboro United Methodist Church at 8940 State Route 43. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays, and 1 to 3:30 p.m. Wednesdays. Recipients are welcome on a monthly basis and must show proof that they are Streetsboro residents.

The first installments should arrive in June, Jones said.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.