The poor is a growing population, as well. Census figures from 2000 showed 12.1 percent of individuals and 9.2 percent of families in Ashtabula County were at or below the poverty line.
Poverty is creeping up in the United States, but at a slower rate than in Ashtabula County. In 2000, the U.S. rate for individuals was 12.4 percent; in 2006, it was 13.3.
The county’s 13 food pantries and five soup kitchens are this population’s safety valve: Food is the one commodity the poor can still get free in America.
“It’s easier to cheat your belly than it is some of the other things,” says Dianna Bradbury, director of food-bank operations for Ashtabula County.
Bradbury backs what individual food pantry coordinators are saying: Demand is up, and the pantries are seeing more and more new faces every month. Many of those faces are of the working poor.
“It has changed over the years,” says Bradbury, who comes from an 11-year perspective of the system. “It’s not just someone who comes in here and is on welfare. They do have a job; it might only pay minimum wage, but they do have a job.”
Bradbury says Ashtabula County’s food pantries served 28,578 persons in 2007. In 2006 the number was 26,198. In terms of households, in 2007 the pantries served 5,438 households with children and 4,696 without.
“I’m seeing more older people come in,” she says. “The rest are pretty much even. I’m seeing age 60 and up with children increase. I’m seeing more grandparents raising their grandchildren.”
Bradbury says there was an increase of 251 households 60 and older with children over the previous year. Anecdotally, she knows many of these situations are created by parents involved in drugs and unable to provide a safe environment for their children.
Last year Job and Family Services held special distributions of food for recipients of Ohio Works First (Temporary Assistance for Needy). Persons eligible for the program have incomes under 100 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.