Law firm gives $10,000 to fight hunger

The war on hunger in the Mid-Ohio Valley gained a new recruit Monday as law firm Bricker & Eckler LLP joined the local Hunger Solutions Task Force with a $10,000 donation announced at the Marietta Community Food Pantry in the First Congregational Church.

“About a year ago Marietta College, Marietta Memorial Hospital and Peoples Bank came together in an effort to see what we could do to help reduce hunger in the community. Since then we’ve worked with local food pantries and are teaching kids in 23 area classrooms about nutrition. And we hope to expand those efforts,” said Chuck Sulerzyski, president and chief executive officer with Peoples Bank in Marietta.

He said Bricker & Eckler’s donation would help support the Hunger Solutions Task Force Live Healthy Kids program in schools as well as provide for the local food pantry.

“But it’s super exciting to have Bricker & Eckler, one of the oldest law firms in the state of Ohio, as a new partner in this task force,” Sulerzyski added.

Kurt Tunnell, managing partner with Bricker & Eckler, said when the firm opened its Marietta offices last year the members were seeking a way that they could help make a difference in the community.

“As we were contemplating the move to Marietta, we were asked by Marietta Memorial Hospital, a longtime client of our firm, to consider joining the Hunger Solutions Task Force,” he said. “We’ve always felt addressing the hunger issue is extremely important for the overall health of a community.”

Tunnell said the $10,000 is a direct contribution from the Bricker & Eckler partnership, but added that the firm’s employees will also be contributing through fundraising efforts like “dress-down days” in which employees can participate by donating to the hunger-fighting effort.

“Hunger is also a regional challenge, and I’m hopeful that we can bring other partnerships together statewide,” he added.

DeeAnn Gehlauf, vice president of business and organizational development for the Memorial Health System, said a 2011 U.S. Department of Agriculture study of food insecurity found more than 24 percent of children and nearly 16 percent of adult individuals in Washington, Wood and surrounding counties in Ohio and West Virginia experienced food insecurity.

She explained food insecurity refers to individuals who do not always have enough food, especially nutritional food, to support an active, healthy lifestyle for all family members.

“It would take $23 million annually to provide these people with proper nutrition,” Gehlauf said. “And hunger among children has a major impact, not only on health care costs later in life, but also on educational achievement, worker productivity, and eventually the ability of the region and nation to compete in a global economy.”

She said the Live Healthy Kids program has been extremely successful in teaching children the basics of cooking and preparing nutritional foods.

“We’re in 23 classrooms in nine different schools in Marietta and Williamstown at this time, and ultimately we want to see this program in all schools in Washington and Wood counties,” Gehlauf added.

Steve Porter, who works with the Marietta Community Food Pantry, said the need to feed hungry families is growing.

“When the food pantry first started we were seeing clients during the last three to four days of the month, but now we’re seeing them every week and every month,” he said. “We’re constantly fighting to maintain our budget to keep meeting these needs, and we rely solely on donations.”

Marietta resident Anita Wall was one of the original founders of the Marietta Community Food Pantry at the First Congregational Church.

“It started in 1979 by a group here at the church,” she said. “We were looking for a project that would help the community, so we started the food pantry.”

Wall said the program initially operated on an emergency-only basis.

“When we had a person who needed food, someone would just go out and buy a loaf of bread or gallon of milk,” she said. “Now we maintain a stocked pantry with refrigerators and freezers to store much more food.”

Porter said 2,786 households were served by the pantry in 2013, which included 752 seniors, 4,273 other adults and 2,432 children.

He reported the total pantry operational cost for 2013 was $69,771. Food costs totaled $40,811.