A Greene County food pantry in Xenia is seeking to expand its operations as the number of clients it serves continues to increase.
Greene County FISH pantry is seeking to build a 3,200-square-foot expansion to their location on Cincinnati Avenue in Xenia in order to store more donated food and help more people who are food insecure.
FISH is raising $1.2 million, $400,000 of which will go toward construction of the new building, as well as equipment and operating funds for the year. The remaining $800,000 will be invested to use as operating funds down the road.
“This is a business plan in order to get us up and sustainable for the future,” Executive Director Gail Matson said. “Our numbers are going up I don’t see it going away.”
The number of people getting food from FISH has increased steadily over the years, but has seen a sharp rise in need post-pandemic, Matson said. In 2018, prior to the pandemic, Greene County FISH served 500 to 600 families a month.
FISH served 858 families in May 2022 and a year later that number increased by more than 50%, with about 1,400 families served, and approximately 176,000 pounds of food distributed.
“At the end of last year we were doing 1,100 families,” she said. “That was our high for the last year. This year, we started off with 1,100 in January.”
January through May usually marks the slow season of the year, Matson said, as kids come home for the summer and aren’t getting lunches at school. The rest of the year typically increases in demand through the holidays, before slowing back down in the early months.
One of the contributing factors, from speaking to clients, is the discontinuation of COVID emergency SNAP benefits in February, Matson said.
“Some of them had some saved up, or a little saved up, and it’s all gone now. So the families that had been going to the grocery store are now coming back here,” she said.
Prior to the pandemic, the average family size of clients at FISH was three or four, which dropped to two during the shutdown.
During the pandemic, many of the people that came to FISH were elderly couples or those with disabilities, Matson said, but most of the new clients seeking assistance this year are families with children. Since the beginning of the year, FISH has served 572 new families, who have not received assistance from the nonprofit before, Matson said.
Another reason numbers have surged, Matson said, is that people are less able to make ends meet.
“They put gas in their car, they go to work, they come home, they pay their rent, or mortgage, utilities, maybe a car payment, there’s nothing left for food,” she said. “And the least little thing can tilt it. If they have a big bill or car repair, even if they’re budgeting, it can just throw it all off.”
The upgrade to the facility would allow FISH to meet the higher demand, as well as take on more fresh food from local businesses looking to reduce food waste, Matson said. A tentative construction start date is in September.