Mid-Ohio Food Collective raises $24m of record $30m campaign

Katy Smith
Columbus CEO
The Mid-Ohio Farm

It might not seem intuitive at first blush that a recession is a good time to launch a major fundraising campaign, but it turns out that is the case if you are funding basic needs like food and shelter. When the need is greatest, those with the means are generous indeed.

Such has been the case during the past year, when the Columbus business community has stepped up for the Mid-Ohio Food Collective. Led by campaign co-chairs Kirt Walker of Nationwide, Steve Steinour of Huntington and Nick Akins of American Electric Power and their wives, it raised $24 million in just a few months from 100 supporters.

Now, the group’s efforts turn to raising the final $6 million of a $30 million goal, which it hopes to meet this summer, likely from many small-dollar-amount donations. This is the largest campaign in the organization’s history by a lot — its next largest raised $16 million during the last recession in 2008-09.

As was the case during that housing and financial crisis, communicating the need this time around has not been difficult, unfortunately. In 2019, the Mid-Ohio Food Collective served 525,000 people. Last year, it was 660,000. CEO Matt Habash says last year, more than 60,000 families showed up needing help for the first time, and 750 families a day visited its Grove City headquarters. That number was 250 families a day in 2019.

“If there’s ever been a time when people have said, ‘I get it,’ it’s now,” Walker says. “The ask has been easy.”

Mid-Ohio Farm, with vertical gardening

Mid-Ohio Food Collective, as its recent name change from Mid-Ohio Foodbank suggests, has gone well beyond simply being a food bank. It is using data analytics to predict when and where people need food so it can meet that need. If pantries—which it calls markets, removing the stigma families face when they have to seek help—are only open when customers are working, how can they visit? To that end, Mid-Ohio plans to expand to 10 markets in Franklin County in areas of need. It serves a 20-county region overall, which it has done during the past year with the help of the National Guard, who filled in for a variety of roles including those vacated by office workers who usually make up a core group of volunteers, but who stayed home to avoid COVID-19.

Habash and his team also are engaged in the factors that lead people to need help from the foodbank, such as job loss, debt and rising housing costs, collaborating with other organizations on workforce issues, for example.

With the money it raises, the organization also will send resources toward its Mid-Ohio Farm on the Hilltop, where it is growing lettuce, peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers using vertical farming, which uses much less space than traditional farming.

That innovation and more are possible thanks to the business community, which has played a giant role in the campaign’s success to date and should be commended.