Thirty-two counties in eastern Ohio are considered part of Appalachia, and the stereotypical images of that region's poverty—ramshackle houses, dilapitated barns, small businesses and large factories long shut down—are scattered throughout.
Mahoning County, abutting the Pennsylvania state line, about midway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, is Exhibit A. Some 17 percent of the county's 240,000-plus residents, including almost 26 percent of its children, live below the poverty line.
Shonie Garono knows the situation all too well. In 2008, her husband, Anthony, was laid off from his steel mill job (he remains unemployed), and her income as a hairdresser didn't support the family. Though family members have helped to feed the Garonos' four children, the couple struggles to pay every bill and has come close to foreclosure a couple times.
Cathy and Brian French know, too. Cathy stays home with their four kids while Brian works as a diesel technician, repairing semi-trucks. But as the cost of living rose—and Brian's pay didn't—it wasn't long before the family was falling $200 to $300 short in their monthly budget. They have never missed a rent payment and regularly pay utility bills, but even with scrimping and stretching, they often run out of milk and meat until Brian's next pay period. They have resorted to rolling quarters and dimes to pay for Brian's commute.
Where to turn for help? For these families and many others in Mahoning, the answer is a 22,000-square-foot warehouse in the middle of nowhere. The Big Reach Center of Hope, a 501(c)(3) ministry of Greenford Christian Church, is a food pantry and distribution center situated in a town so small it's ...