Goal is to raise $1.035 million and 100,000 pounds of food

Since LifeSong Church opened a small food pantry in Massillon four years ago, the number of people it has served has swelled from a mere dozen a month to as many as 400.

“You’d think things would be getting better, that people would be getting jobs, but the need keeps growing and growing,” said Gary Wright, director of the food pantry, which serves meals Tuesdays and Thursdays. “To hear how much they appreciate it and that they wouldn’t eat today or tomorrow without it, that’s why we’re there. It’s not only to give food away, it’s to make them feel they are loved and cared about.”

Wright was among dozens of food pantry and shelter representatives who took part in a pep rally at the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank on Wednesday for the start of the two-month Harvest for Hunger campaign, which aims to raise $1.035 million and 100,000 pounds of food.

For every dollar raised, the agency can provide four meals. The Harvest for Hunger campaign is the agency’s largest fundraiser and food drive of the year. In 2013, it represented half of the foodbank’s food distribution — about 15 million pounds across the eight counties served.

In Stark County, which received 5.18 million pounds of food from the agency last year, some 57,730 people — or 15.3 percent — don’t have regular access to enough food and a quarter of children live in poverty.

“In our community, people think everybody is OK,” said Debbie Messner of the Canal Fulton-based Salt Box Ministries, which has run a hot-meal program on the second and last Sundays of each month since 2009. “But there is a lot of marginal (poverty). They may not be out on the street but they are hurting.”

The launch of the fundraiser campaign was held inside a warehouse at the agency’s headquarters in Akron. Canton Charge cheerleaders formed a welcome line to escort in donors, volunteers and organizers of food pantries and shelters.

Speakers talked about people who have been helped by the program or volunteered, like a foster mother of nine children who counts on foodbank services to make meals stretch and a woman whose medical bills were so steep she had to eat baby food before she connected with a local food pantry.

Foodbank President and CEO Daniel R. Flowers told the crowd — mostly volunteers and employees — they were “on the right side of love.”

“You are the people that, despite the hassles of picking up food on a snowy day or coordinating an office fundraiser, continue to take that first step,” Flowers told them. “Instead of shrieking back in apathy, you press toward the fire with whatever water you have.”

The Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, Cleveland Foodbank, and Second Harvest Food Banks of Mahoning and North Central Ohio take part in the Harvest for Hunger campaign. They represent 21 counties in Northeast Ohio.

Reach Matthew at 330-580-8527

On Twitter: @mrinkREP

Harvest for Hunger: How to Donate

Goal: $1,035,000 and 100,000 pounds of food

When: Now through the end of April.

Want to donate? There are nearly 300 businesses, schools, community agencies and families holding food and donation drives. To host a food drive, register and download a coordinator’s kit from akroncantonfoodbank.org.

Donations can be made in amounts of $1, $5 or $10 at registers at Buehler’s Fresh Foods, Dave’s Supermarkets, Fishers Foods, Giant Eagle, Heinen’s Fine Foods, Dunkin Donuts and Walgreens starting Sunday.

Want to participate?

The Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank will hold another Harvest for Hunger campaign kickoff event at 2 p.m. today at Shearer’s Foods, 100 Lincoln Way E, Massillon.

Feeding Stark County

5,178,805 pounds of food, or 4,315,671 meals, distributed to 106 member agencies in Stark by the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank in 2013.

57,730 Stark County residents, or 15.3 percent, are considered food insecure

20,650 Stark County children, or 23.8 percent, are considered food insecure

What is food “insecurity” ?

Lack of regular access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all members of a household and limited or uncertain availability of nutritional foods as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

SOURCE: Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank