Fighting for Food

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Young, ambitious Lisa Hamler-Fugitt was excelling in the banking industry, driving a sleek sports car and affording so many upscale suits that she had three in her closet with the tags still attached.

But she noticed a glaring disparity between business leadership and the employees working to make the profits possible. And she didn't like the reality.

"I decided I could either stay and remain part of the problem, or I could leave and be part of the solution," she said. "It can't always be about you. It has to be about the bigger community."

So the 51-year-old Reynoldsburg woman has spent the last 20 years helping to provide hunger relief for folks who need it. For the last decade, she has become a well-known face around the Statehouse, where she crusades with passion as the executive director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks.

Her organization provides food, groceries and training to the state's 12 regional food banks, who in turn offer food to 3,000 charities statewide, like churches and soup kitchens.

Last year, those member charities distributed more than 113 million pounds of food, and more than 24 million came as a result of the association's efforts, according to the group. Among other things, the association works with farmers to secure healthy food with no market value ("cosmetically challenged" fruits and veggies, as Hamler-Fugitt says), which helps both the farmers and the needy.

The association also runs the Ohio Benefit Bank, which offers counselor assistance to needy Ohioans to help them access the resources they need, like tax credits, work supports and food stamps.

The hunger problem in Ohio is much worse than most people realize, Hamler-Fugitt stresses. (And it's a problem 365 days a year, she notes -- not just at the holidays.)

"One in eight Ohioans are missing meals," she said. "I've held too many babies in my arms that are too weak to cry. Too many kids who had just a blank look, (who are) too lethargic and too filled with hunger. ...We're better than this."

And as for the career Hamler-Fugitt left behind? "How many black, gray and navy suits can you have?" she jokes. Seriously, though, she's more satisfied now. But she's not finished.

"There is so much more that needs done. And I wish there were more hours in the day and more days in the week and more people who would join us and help fight poverty."

1 Simple Way to Help

Host a drive for personal-hygiene products and household cleaning supplies, or simply start a box in your own home and occasionally drop in items when you find them on sale. When the box -- or boxes -- are filled, donate them to a local food bank. Low-income families struggle to secure those items, Lisa Hamler-Fugitt said, and to food banks, they're "like gold." Need help finding a place to take the boxes? Call the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks at 614-221-4336.