Linda Klinebriel sits in the living room of her Nelsonville home and explains the difficulties in scraping by to make ends meet.
Photographer: Gretchen Gregory
Ohio University faculty and staff who are part of Learning Communities Programs pack food boxes with the help of a conveyor belt inside the large warehouse at the Southeast Ohio Food Bank & Kitchen in Logan.
Photo courtesy of: Hocking Athens Perry Community Action
Mary Rogus (left), an associate professor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and Renee Smith, assistant program coordinator of The Stevens Literacy Center, pack a food box with non-perishable items at the Southeast Ohio Food Bank & Kitchen in Logan.
Photo courtesy of: Hocking Athens Perry Community Action
Jun 20, 2014
By Gretchen Gregory
Linda Klinebriel of Nelsonville was blessed with three children and a good job at Goodyear Tire & Rubber in Logan until closure of the plant in 1999 sent she and hundreds others scrambling to find work. Now 65, disabled and unable to have a job, she relies on charitable giving and is thankful for the help received from others, including a monthly food box from the Southeast Ohio Food Bank & Kitchen.
Powering the packaging of food boxes are volunteers who donated 12,000 hours in 2013 — including multiple Ohio University students, faculty and staff — to help feed thousands of families throughout the 10-county Appalachian Region the food bank serves.
“It helps out tremendously,” Klinebriel said of the food box containing staples like cereal, pasta, canned vegetables and dried milk. “We only get $180 a month to share between the two of us for groceries with food stamps, and we get one of these boxes each month.”
Though Klinebriel found jobs as a home health aide and short order cook to make ends meet after Goodyear’s closure, a diagnosis of fibromyalgia followed by rheumatoid arthritis seven years ago left her unable to grasp items. Most days, it’s impossible to open a glass jar.
These days, Klinebriel’s 27-year-old daughter lives at home and helps her mom around the house. Both survive on Klinebriel’s disability check and food stamps, which total about $700 a month.
“We cut coupons, and we’ve learned to do without,” Klinebriel said as she looked in her monthly food box in the trunk of an older model Ford that’s seen better days. “We rarely eat meat. We’ve learned how to make it work, because other than that, we don’t have enough to make it.”
At a food box distribution event at the Athens County Fairgrounds in late May, the sun started to shine brightly on vehicles in the parking lot as people made their way inside the OSU Extension building and formed a line to sign up for the distribution. The early risers, including Klinebriel and her daughter and mother, were already inside the building. They went to a food and nutrition class hosted by OSU Extension that started earlier at 8 a.m. By the time class ended by 9 a.m., there was a line out the door.
One of the advantages of the class, Klinebriel noted, is that besides learning how to eat healthy, she is one of the first in line for her food box. Otherwise, it takes two hours to get through the line.
Once volunteers loaded a food box from a big white industrial truck into the back of Klinebriel’s car — which belongs to her mother — she pulled over to chat and inspect what was inside. That day, there was a large block of low-fat, reduced sodium cheese, several cans of sweet potatoes, tomato juice, pasta, cereal, canned stew, applesauce, two small cartons of milk, dried milk, and a jar of peanut butter.
“It’s different each time and we really never know what we’ll get, and thankfully there’s sometimes some milk,” she said. “We pay our bills the first of the month and think ‘Yes, the first is here!’ and then by the second the bills are paid and we’re broke again. We don’t drink a lot of milk because we know we’ll run out of other stuff first. We’ve learned to live without it, so we don’t miss it when we learn we can’t have it.”
Though she’s struggling, every little bit helps, she says, not to mention the thousands of others who try and scrape out a living by various means living within the Appalachian Region. “I see people on assistance with nice cars, and I just don’t see how they manage,” she said, sitting on the couch in the living room of her modest but tidy home.
Klinebriel can’t afford to maintain an air conditioner, but keeps the window curtains closed and ceiling fans on their highest setting throughout her home. “It feels OK in here now,” she said, with a hint of trepidation in her voice about what might come this summer.
Helping thousands in Appalachian Ohio
The Southeast Ohio Food Bank & Kitchen in Logan distributes 6 million pounds of food through its network each year, which includes 37,000 people in their food programs. Four thousand people are signed up for the food box distribution as part of the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.
“A majority of the people in our programs who receive benefits through food banks and food pantries are working people,” said Chris MacNeal, resource coordinator at Hocking Athens Perry Community Action, which administers the program. “A large percentage of them have children in the household as well. It’s not just that they’re staying at home because they choose too, but many have a permanent disability and can’t work. They need extra help to get through the month.”
Seventy-five percent of those participating in the program are using the food bank network one to three times a year and are going to food pantries in their most dire times of need, he noted.
The effort would be impossible without the help of volunteers who play an integral role in the food bank’s operation and success. Individuals, teams, groups, clubs and families volunteer for the Meals-on-Wheels Program, pack food boxes, offer kitchen assistance, do janitorial work, and help with fundraising efforts, special event coverage and warehouse work.
Culture of giving at OHIO
OHIO students have packed food boxes, including the football, softball and rugby teams, as well as several sororities and fraternities such as Delta Zeta, Lambda Chi Alpha, Pi Tau Sigma, Beta Pi, and Cutler Scholars, in addition to faculty, staff and students through Learning Community Programs.
Earlier this month, a group of faculty and staff packed 800 food boxes on 16 skids in a few short hours. “It went really well,” MacNeal said of the event. “There were a lot of professors from Learning Communities who were here most of the morning.”
Barb Harrison is the assistant director of off-campus living at Ohio University and participated in the food packing event with about 20 other faculty and staff. She said it was an opportunity to not only help, but also encourage faculty to incorporate service activities into their Learning Communities and curriculum.
“A lot of people in Athens aren’t from Southeastern Ohio, so it gives them a chance to learn how the food bank system works and is a good opportunity to do something and build their curriculum into a service activity,” she said.
“We pull instructors together and train them on the learning outcomes for classes, and one of them is building community support and being responsible citizens,” said Lisa Kamody, director of student and community engagement in University College. “We want students to be positive influences within the community.”
Aided in part by a two-year grant designed to build capacity for service learning into the first-year student experience, incoming students have an opportunity to learn more about the Appalachian Region. Last year, peer mentor Myranda Owca participated in a food box packing event as a way to engage first-year students.
“I think as freshman students, it’s important to learn where they’re living the next four years and try to help out and make it a better place when they leave,” Owca said from Los Angeles, Calif., where she’s interning at a public relations agency this summer. “We gave out handouts and really told them about this part of Ohio and why the area is impoverished and some of the things they can do in the area. As freshman, they often have no idea when they come to Ohio University how important service is to Athens.”
One first-year student who accompanied Owca on the trip in September 2013 was 19-year-old Cheyenne Buckingham, who is in Columbus for the summer and will return as a sophomore in the fall. “We formed an assembly line where we packed the boxes, and that was a good experience,” she said. “It was a faster pace than I thought it would be. I’ve volunteered at a food pantry in Worthington, but that’s quite small compared to the one in Logan, so I was really shocked by the size and it opened my eyes to how rural the area is and to how many people are in need.”
Lunch was provided to the volunteers, including sandwiches, but Buckingham found it difficult to eat when she realized there were families in need nearby who didn’t have the same opportunities. “We were sitting there enjoying ourselves, but just a couple miles away, some kids didn’t have a meal to go home to, and learning about that really hit me hard,” Buckingham said. “I did research on the program because I wanted to get involved, and I’m trying to get involved now as the vice president of the nutrition club.”
Despite the sadness that overwhelmed her at the time, Buckingham said it was an incredible experience and she is blessed to have had the opportunity to help.
Student experience outside the classroom
The impact of student education comes not just through courses or colleges, but also through experiences that forever change a student. By creating service-learning opportunities for students, Ohio University is helping to transform lives within the community.
During the 2011-12 academic year, OHIO students participated in more than 1.4 million hours of experiential learning and volunteer opportunities, including internships, practicums and capstone projects. The economic impact of these activities at local, regional, state and national levels is valued at more than $25.8 million, according to the OHIO Economic Impact Assessment.
Experiential learning benefits partnering agencies like the Southeast Ohio Food Bank & Kitchen, while student support and engagement enables local and regional businesses and entities to do more with less. Student engagement also allows students to transfer the knowledge gained in the classroom into the community — and take their real-world experiences back onto campus.
“Since collaborating with the food bank, they have let us know they get 90 percent of their volunteers from Ohio University, and it’s largely due to efforts of our staff and campus,” Harrison said, noting the food bank packs boxes one Saturday each month. “We try to send students or staff to every packing event.”
For local residents who rely on being frugal and resort to food boxes in times of need, the boxes often serve as a life line and help create a more stable environment for families, at a time when jobs and food are often scarce.
“We have to learn how to make it go, because other than that, we wouldn’t make it,” Klinebriel said.
For more information about the Southeast Ohio Food Bank & Kitchen, visit www.hapcap.org/foodbank. To learn more about poverty and food insecurity in Ohio, click on the following links: Population by county at or below 200 percent of federal poverty level and Ohio food insecurity by county.
This special Compass series features the programs and initiatives through which Ohio University students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends are realizing their promise as they elevate lives across the region. These people-focused success stories take you behind the scenes and highlight the many meaningful ways OHIO serves society by supporting educational, economic, creative and wellness endeavors, as well as other humanitarian efforts.