Vinton County residents seek supplemental assistance
The United States Department of Agriculture defines a “food desert” as an urban or rural area without access to fresh produce and healthy food. The USDA measures rural access as within 10 miles, placing Vinton County squarely in this category. There has not been a grocery store in the county since early 2014, but several different groups have come together to provide sustenance.
The Southeastern Ohio Foodbank, which serves Athens, Hocking and Vinton counties, has organized a few different options for Vinton County residents with the surplus food they purchase from Ohio Farmers through federal and state funding.
In August, the food bank through the help of Hocking Athens Perry Community Action Program (HAPCAP), hosted their first Vinton County mobile market. Organizers say they hope to schedule more mobile markets.
Another HAPCAP outreach is to provide summer lunches for school children that rely on free and reduced lunches. During the summer, the organization hosts daily lunches and the opportunity to pick up a week’s worth of lunches.
“There is no enrollment or application process, kids can just show up and have a meal,” Payne says.
The elderly in Athens also struggle with limited access to nutrition. The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) is a long-standing program for low-income residents over the age of 60 years old. Carla Saum, CSFP operations specialist, says that the program has seen a recent increase in participants since the grocery store closed its doors.
About 200 residents in Vinton currently receive a monthly box of groceries from the CSFP. According to Saum, the boxes are worth between $50 and $60.
Many homes in Vinton are multi-generational, making it especially difficult to afford to put food on the table. Saum says although food stamps are an adequate option, many residents feel stigmatized by them.
“This program seems to draw more than food stamps because they don’t feel like such a close eye is watching them,” she says. “A lot of times it’s either going for medicine or food and they don’t have to make that choice with this program.”
For now, the residents of Vinton hold out hope for a new grocery store.