YOUNGSTOWN - The 26th annual Harvest for Hunger campaign to benefit Second Harvest Food Bank kicked off this week.
The annual food and funds drive takes place in March and April to help stock the food bank's shelves for the spring and summer months when donations typically taper off.
Michael Iberis, executive director of Second Harvest, said last year's effort raised $203,107 and collected nearly 33,000 pounds of food. He said all funds raised and food collected remain in Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties.
More than 120 people attended the kickoff, where Iberis reported there are already 90 food drives planned by businesses, schools and fraternal organizations.
''The support this year is growing. I think people understand their is more need and more poverty for children and seniors,'' he said.
''Fifty percent of the children in this area are on free or reduced lunch because their families live below poverty level,'' Iberis said.
Sister Jean Orsuto of Emmanuel Community Care Center in Girard shared how the food bank helps them since they help low-income senior citizens age 60 and older through the commodity supplemental food program. She said the center helps about 75 seniors a month needing food. They receive a box of food with cereal, juices, canned meats, vegetables and cheese as part of the program.
''It has been very successful. The food is delivered to us on the third Tuesday of the month. People have to sign up,'' Orsuto said.
During the two-month Harvest for Hunger campaign, financial contributions may be made at supermarket sponsor Giant Eagle by tearing off coupons at the register between Sunday and April 15 and at participating Sparkle Markets between Sunday and April 30. Donations are added to customer's grocery bills.
Iberis said in 2016, the food bank distributed 10.5 million pounds of food, including 3 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Anyone interested in participating in the campaign by conducting a food and / or fund drive can call Paige Tomlinson-Miller at 330-792-5522, ext. 102 or visit www.mahoningvalleysecondharvest.org.