COLUMBUS, Ohio—Some 188,300 meals were packed and delivered to families in northeast Ohio last week as part of an effort by more than 500 volunteers from The Ohio State University who joined some 200 community organization partners to fight food insecurity in Ohio.
The effort was part of “Urban October,” a worldwide campaign the United Nations launched to focus on the opportunities and challenges created by the fast rate of change in cities.
The theme of Ohio’s monthlong campaign is “Celebrating Ohio Cities—Where We Live, Work, Play, Learn, and Serve.”
As part of that service, Ohio State students, staff, faculty, alumni, volunteers, and families packed and delivered free meals to those struggling with food insecurity. In an effort led by Ohio State’s Office of Student Life Kindness initiative, the meals were packed and then distributed through Ohio State University Extension and local community partners in northeast Ohio. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).
The food was delivered Oct. 14 via the official Ohio State football equipment truck owned by former Ohio State football player Ken Blair. Student Life team members joined OSU Extension staff to deliver the assembled meals to nonprofit organizations in Mahoning, Columbiana, Stark, and Portage counties, said Eric Barrett, an associate professor and OSU Extension educator in Mahoning County.
Each agency was presented with at least one box that contained enough food to feed 216 people, Barrett said. Each meal package also contained a card that shows places people can go to get meals on a regular basis in their counties. The counties that received the food are among those that experienced the highest increase in food insecurity in Ohio since the COVID-19 pandemic began some 20 months ago.
“These community agencies serve food-insecure audiences at 200% of the federal poverty level and below, so we know that partnering with them will get the food to those with the most need,” Barrett said. “These agencies are also where OSU Extension SNAP-ED and EFNEP program assistants teach classes on nutrition, physical activity, food safety, and purchasing food on a budget.”
Ohio State’s SNAP-Ed program is the nutrition education program for recipients of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered by OSU Extension. OSU Extension also administers the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP). Designed for families and youth of lower income, the programs focus on helping people choose higher quality, nutritionally dense foods and include other aspects of healthy living, including food safety and physical activity.
This project was a collaboration by Ohio State’s Office of Student Life, Ohio State Athletics, Ohio State CFAES, and Coca-Cola. This is the fifth year Ohio State has done the meal giveaway, and the second year OSU Extension has been involved, said Tracy Stuck, program director of Community Partnerships and Innovation for the Office of Student Life. Last year, the meals were distributed in Pike, Jackson, and Scioto counties in southern Ohio, she said.
Stuck called the partnership with OSU Extension for the meal giveaway a “beautiful collaboration” because of the relationships OSU Extension has in all of Ohio’s 88 counties.
“Ohio State is a land-grant institution that was founded on helping people throughout the state,” Stuck said. “This meal giveaway is helping families in need and teaching our students and staff that land-grant mission of serving our state.”
“It’s also teaching our community about food insecurity—a lesson we hope we’re teaching for a lifetime. No matter where our students go in the world, they can contribute to serve that mission of getting people fed around the world.”
That’s significant, considering that Ohio is ranked 10th in terms of the number of food deserts compared to other states, experts say. Food deserts are low-income census tracts where a substantial number or share of people are far from supermarkets or stores, with little access to fresh, reasonably priced fruits and vegetables.
“This is what happens when the best of the university and the best of the community come together to meet local needs,” said Julie Fox, director of strategic initiatives and urban engagement for OSU Extension. “OSU Extension is a critical partner to help with getting food into the hands of those most in need because we’re embedded in every community throughout Ohio.
“So, when it comes to connecting with local communities and the hundreds of agencies that are there day in and day out, OSU Extension is a perfect partner. Whether it’s rural, urban, or suburban, we are a key partner in meeting local needs.”
Working with Ohio residents statewide, OSU Extension faculty and staff help people start urban farms and community gardens, instill leadership and job skills in youth, teach stress-management and parenting to adults, offer health-related classes for the elderly, and provide many other services as well.
This is OSU Extension’s first year participating in Urban October. In the coming years, the Extension team plans to collaborate with additional university and community partners to build on this foundation and foster local, state, national, and global connections.
For more information about OSU Extension’s Urban October efforts, visit go.osu.edu/urbanoctober.