Feed Our Valley: Second Harvest Food Bank - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Feed Our Valley: Second Harvest Food Bank

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This is the 11th year of 21 WFMJ's Feed Our Valley campaign, a campaign that started in 2007 to shine a light on the heartbreaking reality that one in six people in the Mahoning Valley faces hunger. 

Once again, 21 WFMJ is proud to partner with Second Harvest Food Bank which is a volunteer driven organization that is vital to providing hungry people with food. 

Last year, volunteers gave more than 14,000 hours of their time including the Lewis Connection.

Gomer Lewis, his wife Betty, his sisters Lucile Bartlemay, Patsy Lewis and Barb Williams volunteer at the Food Bank every Wednesday morning.

"We come down once a week, work back here in the repack," said Gomer. "We have gotten to know so many people. The staff and other volunteers we work with every week have become kind of like part of our family, and as you know, if you're working with people that you enjoy being with and you enjoy doing what your doing that when you go home you can say I had a good time and had a lot of fun today."

It's a cause the Lewis Connection strongly believes in. They have volunteered over 4,600 hours at Second Harvest since 2006.

"I guess it's for the satisfaction and the gratification I get out of this. I think when I go home each week, I have that feeling  of gratitude and I feel that maybe in some small way I've contributed  to making it true that nobody will go hungry," said Gomer.

"We are definitely a volunteer driven organization. We have thousands of hours every year that volunteers bring to the Food Bank and without their help, without their resources and their commitment, I'm not sure we could do what we do," said Mike Iberis, Executive Director of Second Harvest.

What the Food Bank does is life saving. Their mission is to solicit, store and distribute food to some 150 agencies that serve hungry people in Mahoning, Columbiana, and Trumbull counties.

"We're now seeing approximately 15,000 people a week that are showing up at either a pantry for a bag of food or a soup kitchen for a meal," said Iberis. "Hunger is becoming very, very prevalent not only in our area but in many areas in the state of Ohio and in the country. It's made up of people who come to us with hardships and hardships come in many different forms. You can lose a job, you can have an illness, there's a whole bunch of reasons why hardships create a situation where someone comes to a soup kitchen or a food pantry and right now the numbers have been increasing over the last dozen years."

Mike Iberis has been the executive director for 17 years and calls it a labor of love.

"It seems like when you get here, you really get engrossed in the mission and you really understand what you're doing and how it helps so many people that it's a pleasure to come to work everyday because you know at the end of the day you've done something really, really good for the community and for the people that live in it," said Iberis.

The history of the Food Bank goes back to December 1982. It was incorporated as the Food Assistance Warehouse when a group of lay and religious community leaders realized that while people were going hungry, companies were throwing away unused but still nutritious, edible food. 

Iberis says if there is an unfortunate part, it's seeing Second Harvest really grow over the years. Right now, one in four children in the Mahoning Valley struggles with hunger.

"This is one organization that I belong to that I really, someday, hope that we can disband. That we can go out of business because that would mean no hungry people. We started out with a distribution of about two million pounds 17 years ago, last year we distributed 10.5 million pounds," said Iberis.

A sobering statistic that hunger in the Valley isn't going away anytime soon. But if there is a need, the Lewis Connection will be there, every Wednesday morning.

"It's something that I think we all look forward to each week. It's the only thing that I plan to do every week, other things come up, but this is one thing that I want to be a part of my week each week," said Gomer.

The 2017 Feed Our Valley campaign runs from November 6th to December 15th. 

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