YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – In this week’s In-Depth segment, WKBN Community Affairs Director Dee Crawford sits down with Mike Iberis, the executive director of the Second Harvest Food Bank. They discuss children in the community who are going without food and how Second Harvest plays a role in addressing their needs.

Second Harvest provides food to its partner pantries, which are mostly faith-based organizations. Those organizations then distribute food to people in their city or zip code. Second Harvest works with them while following certain guidelines from the USDA.

Second Harvest works with about 160 organizations in Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

“On a regular basis, those folks will come in and pick up the food that they are going to prepare to distribute during their distribution. Typically, a pantry distributes once a month. However, there are some that distribute once or twice a month, and there are few that have kitchens, like Salvation Army. Warren Family Mission does a great job with kitchens and they provide meals in addition to bags or boxes of food for people in need,” Iberis said.

Simply being hungry isn’t enough though, people do need to qualify in order to receive this food.

“It’s income-based. So there’s a sheet that everyone looks at and fills out and has to sign that and indicate that they’re at or below the poverty level. [There’s a] self-declaration sheet that they sign every time they come, and that’s something the USDA requires,” Iberis said.

There are multiple ways Second Harvest receives its food.

“We receive food from USDA, the federal government that purchases surplus production. So they work with farmers throughout the nation. If there’s a bumper crop of corn or beans or what have you, then they’ll purchase that for two reasons. First of all, to shore up the price of that particular commodity so that the farmers don’t lose money, and they’re compensated for this bumper crop. Secondly, then that food goes to schools and goes to food banks and is provided to those organizations,” Iberis said.

Second Harvest also works with a program through the state of Ohio to receive food.

“We found out about the 12 food banks of Ohio. We were all working together and we determined about 18 years ago that there were farmers that had bumper crops — our fruits and vegetables. They would let it rot in the field if they had a bumper crop because if they took it, the economics of it, if they took it to market, it would depress the price of the other products, so they just let it rot. So we said to them… they did donate to us. They would donate to us also when they had these bumper crops, but there was a lot there, and we said, ‘Well, why don’t you… would you like to donate to us?’ ‘Yeah, we would. There it is in the field, go get it,'” Iberis said.

The term for that process is gleaning.

“Yeah, pretty much, and we said, ‘Well, that’s great.’ But there’s such volume in the state of Ohio and we’re only 12 people, 12 organizations, and we don’t have enough volunteers to do that. So why don’t we go with you — the farmers and the food banks — why don’t we go to the state legislature and see if they’ll give you some money to be able to take it out of the fields, get it to get it picked, and then box it and get it to us? Great idea, simple idea. So the food bank directors and the farmers went to the legislature, proposed this program about 18 years ago. The governor of the state, the state legislature agreed to it, and it’s been operating ever since. So a lot of our product comes from that program,” Iberis said.

During the summer months, if those crops aren’t available in Ohio, they’ll receive them from other states where those crops are in season through the USDA.

“The same produce is coming in from USDA. There’s potatoes, there’s onions, there’s apples, there’s oranges, there’s fruits and vegetables coming in. Now, it’s from USDA, not from Ohio. So it’s coming from, obviously, California, Arizona, it’s being trucked. So USDA is purchasing that too for the surplus production,” Iberis said.

Having enough volunteers for the food bank is not a huge problem. Iberis says they have a waiting list of volunteers.

“We’re very fortunate. We have a base of volunteers. We have hundreds of volunteers every week. There’s a different group every day that comes in and volunteers, maybe 15 on a given day. We get people calling us and saying what volunteer opportunities are available.”

Iberis said they try to match volunteers with their interests.

One thing to note about the food bank is it is not set up to distribute food to individuals. Iberis said they distribute only to agencies and refer individuals to those outlets.

“We can let them know what agencies distribute in their zip code or their area and what days and what times so they would have an opportunity to go to them for food and for a meal if they have a kitchen, a feeding site,” Iberis said.

According to the 2020 census, 35.3% of people in Youngstown are living in poverty.