Friday, August 13th, 2010
By Shelley Grieshop
Ag businesses generously give to CALL
  CELINA - Local agriculture businesses are doing their part to feed the growing number of hungry families in the area.
Tim Clutter, director of CALL Food Pantry in Celina, is spearheading a new program to provide locally-grown and raised foods to those in need. Several businesses have committed to the program, he said.
"The generosity of Mercer County agribusinesses has been overwhelming," he said. "Upon announcing the program, we had farmers and agri-businesses jumping on board to help very quickly."
Putting extra food - such as meat and eggs from locally-raised livestock - in the pantry's coolers and freezers helps Clutter and his staff feed the needy people in our communities, Clutter said.
"All of these donations have been very timely as the client volume continues to grow. June and July were record-breaking months. I hate to think of the numbers the winter months may bring," he added.
The food pantry served 18 percent more families in June compared to the same month last year. July was worse; workers at the pantry along North Brandon Avenue served 826 families (2,500 people) throughout the month - a 24 percent increase over the previous year, Clutter said.
Although unemployment in the county held steady in June at 7.8 percent - the fourth-lowest rate in Ohio - many families are still struggling to recover and make ends meet, he said.
"Some families must make tough decisions on which bills to pay, such as rent or fuel for heat, and then hope to have enough money to buy food. This scenario continues to happen over and over again, right here in Mercer County," Clutter said.
He's grateful to the businesses who've come forward. Fort Recovery Equity - the first business to commit - has agreed to donate 900 dozen eggs to the food pantry every month so each family that enters can receive at least one dozen.
The Pork Producers of Mercer County committed to donate 20 hogs each month. The animals will be processed at half the cost by courtesy of Green's Markets in Celina and Winners Quality Meats in Osgood. Two-pound packages of bulk whole sausage will be distributed to clients, Clutter added.
Numerous other agri-businesses have donated cash to help pay the remaining out-of-pocket cost for meat processing.
"Currently we have enough cash on hand to process three months worth of hogs with checks still coming in," Clutter said.
The Mercer County Farm Bureau recently spearheaded a food drive for the pantry and the county's Cattleman's Association has donated cases of canned beef. Clutter said their generosity is helping hundreds of men, women and children.
Clutter estimates the food pantry will serve an average of 900 families per month in 2011, which means more help will be needed. Cash donations are as important as food in order to defray expenses for meat processing and transportation to and from the slaughter houses, he said.
Clutter is simultaneously working on another project to help feed young students when school is not in session - particularly weekends and holidays. The Backpack program is set to operate as a pilot program to provide food items to eligible kindergarten through fourth-grade students at Celina West Elementary. If adequate funding is available, Clutter hopes to expand the project to additional grades, as well as other school districts across the county.
The start-up cost just for the Celina school is $25,000 and to date he's collected $10,299. Thanks to an anonymous donation who offered to match each dollar donated, he is only $4,400 from his initial goal, he said.
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