Portage food pantries will be getting more funding soon

Jason Davis, co-founder of the Rural Relief Mobile Food Pantry, collects fresh peppers for donation bags while his mother, Pam McCoy, helps with the distribution in this September 2021 photo.

Portage County Commissioners will ask the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank to administer a program granting $1 million to area food pantries after the agency negotiated a lower administrative fee.

Commissioners plan to give $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to area food pantries, citing cuts in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at a time of rising inflation.

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Previously, commissioners had eyed a local consortium of food programs to administer the grant funding, fearing that the food bank's administrative fee would take too much money away from people in need. But Hope Bonos, the county's grants administrator, said the food bank is offering to serve as a "pass through agency" in exchange for a 2% administrative fee, lower than the 10% fee that they originally thought.

Bonos said she reached out to the agency and learned that in 2022, agencies served by the food bank distributed 1.6 million pounds of food in Portage County. The food bank has a database of food programs on their website, which is searchable by zip code.

"From the communication I've had with them and Family and Community Services, they would be a lower risk," she said. "They've dealt with this before."

The funds would need to be allocated by 2024, Bonos said, but the county would be able to allocate the funding to the food bank over a period of three years, for a 2% administration fee.

Commissioner Tony Badalamenti said he's concerned about programs that source their food locally.

"There's got to be some kind of hybrid we can do," he said.

Bonos said the food bank is willing to meet with hunger relief partners to see what their needs are. The agencies, she said, could use the grant funding to purchase staple items from the food bank, and use their regular funding to purchase specialty items locally.

Commissioner Mike Tinlin said the program might be too large for local groups to handle.

"My goal is let's get this food out there to the people, especially with the loss of other funds," he said.

County Administrator Michelle Crombie said she recommends working with the food bank because of its experience and ability to provide accountability.

"The Akron-Canton Foodbank has a wealth of knowledge and willingness and ability to meet with community partners and establish a comprehensive plan," she said.

Commissioner Sabrina Christian-Bennett said she likes that the program is being phased over three years, allowing commissioners the opportunity to change the program if it doesn't work out.

Bonos said she will still make a grant application available to local social service agencies. The application will be posted on the county's website and social media.

Reporter Diane Smith can be reached at 330-298-1139 or dsmith@recordpub.com.

This article originally appeared on Record-Courier: Portage food pantries to get more funding soon