OSU Extension distributes more than 175,000 meals to food-insecure areas in southeast Ohio

OSU Extension distributes more than 175,000 meals to food-insecure areas in southeast Ohio

When Jennifer Farnsworth, director of the Newport Food Pantry in rural Washington County, hadn’t heard from two of her clients for a few weeks, she became worried. Her clients were senior-aged husband and wife who lived in a remote location with no electricity or running water. Jennifer knew she had to do something, so she boxed up food—including all the trimmings for a Christmas dinner—and headed to the couple’s home, where she found them barefoot and hungry. The couple’s only vehicle had broken down, leaving them stranded and unable to get essential items such as food and toiletries, until they were able to get the car repaired. What Farnsworth saw as a small act of kindness was a significant blessing to the couple.

“I’m a big believer that when people are down and out, sometimes it takes just one thing to get them over the hump,” Farnsworth said. “The little things matter for clients to progress to a better situation.”

The Newport Food Pantry, which serves 362 clients monthly, is one of 35 organizations across four counties that received shelf-stable food packages as part of The Ohio State University’s campuswide “Be Kind” event to address food insecurity. The event kicked off when the Office of Student Life gathered more than 650 students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of Ohio State to assemble over 175,000 meals at the French Field House.

Once the food was packed, Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES), led the distribution effort through partnerships with local agencies such as food pantries, schools, faith-based organizations, and any group that addresses food insecurity in communities. 

“OSU Extension’s vision is to ensure Ohioans have the knowledge and resources they need to actively engage in creating conditions in which they thrive,” said Julie Fox, director of strategic initiatives and urban engagement, OSU Extension. “It’s very natural for us to help Ohioans address food insecurity. It’s also natural for us to connect with communities.”

With offices in each of Ohio’s 88 counties, OSU Extension has the capacity to reach Ohioans in all parts of the state. This year, 35 agencies in Athens, Washington, Meigs, and Gallia counties will be able to feed 30,000 families as a result of the Be Kind initiative.

““OSU Extension’s vision is to ensure Ohioans have the knowledge and resources they need to actively engage in creating conditions in which they thrive,””Julie Fox

“This is the work we do every day,” said Jaqueline Kirby Wilkins, associate dean and director, OSU Extension. “As part of CFAES, we sustain life, which includes addressing food insecurity locally, statewide, and globally.”

In addition, thousands of families on the other side of the Ohio border also will receive food as a result of a partnership with West Virginia University, who packed and distributed more than 130,000 meals. After the food was distributed, Ohio State and West Virginia University met at the Ohio side of the Williamstown-Marietta Bridge in Marietta to celebrate this special service project and honor local food heroes such as Farnsworth.

This recognition means a lot to me,” Farnsworth said. “My goal when I started was to bring program awareness to the area. This award is an opportunity to bring attention to our area because we are so rural. It’s what we needed.”

Amanda Bohlen, area leader and educator, family and consumer sciences, OSU Extension, Washington County, agrees that raising awareness about food insecurity is critical.

“People tend to donate to a food pantry once or give to one food drive. When it comes to food insecurity, it’s more than a one-time thing. People need to come alongside organizations that address food insecurity so they can learn, work, and grow together.” Bohlen said.

In addition to Farnsworth at the Newport Food Pantry, three other agencies were recognized as local food heroes. They are:

  • GoPack, which partners with Extension for food and education programs to help families with gardening, after-school events, and individual families in Marietta, Ohio.
  • The Gathering, a Wesleyan Church with two campuses in Parkersburg, West Virginia, that hosts a food pantry to provide staples to families and serves warm meals to engage the community.
  • Old Man Rivers, the largest food pantry in Wood County, West Virginia, which also provides 400 meals every Saturday and Sunday through their Weekend Feeding Program, among other services.

For information about healthy eating programs, visit OSU Extension’s Healthy People site, which lists educational programs ranging from lessons on healthy eating and cooking, to physical activity, to skin safety, to food preservation and food safety. Click here for a list of OSU Extension offices.