Helping make ends meet in Akron

by Robert Mitchell

The Salvation Army’s Red Shield food distribution in Akron, Ohio, doesn’t start until 9 a.m., but it’s not uncommon to see a line forming three hours early.

“Every one of the early comers are elderly,” said Rebecca Baker, the social services ministry director for The Salvation Army’s Summit County Area Services and the Akron Citadel. “They are trying to survive on a fixed income, and they do what is necessary and they feel good about it. They are not embarrassed because they feel safe coming to The Salvation Army for assistance.”

The drive-thru distribution, held every second Wednesday of the month, can draw as many as 230 people. Almost 200 turned out on May 8, the most recent event. The early birds arrive, Baker said, because “some things are limited, and they want to make sure they get everything.”

Baker said the clients get whatever the Akron Canton Food Bank has. The offerings can vary. The most recent distribution provided bananas, sweet potatoes, taco meat, beans, cookies, potato chips, bread, desserts, and more.

“We thought that the need was going to go down, but it keeps climbing upwards,” Baker said. “The amounts at the grocery store are like sticker shock. It’s really a struggle.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said the consumer price index—a key measure in determining inflation—rose 3.4% in April from a year earlier. Baker also mentioned last year’s cuts to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as SNAP. Those funds helped many families get through the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Akron, a major tire manufacturing hub known as the “Rubber Capital of the World,” affordable housing is also a concern. Many residents require rental assistance. Baker said local leaders have made that issue a priority when it comes to dispersing federal funding. That has contributed to food insecurity for many in this northeastern Ohio city.

“The need is getting greater, and the monies are getting smaller,” Baker said.

The Salvation Army in Akron also offers a food pantry four days a week, including home delivery. A hot meal is served at four different sites, including two community centers and The Salvation Army in Barberton, Ohio.

Baker said some residents try shopping at discount stores like Aldi or Save A Lot to stretch their budgets, but the high price of groceries and nonfood products “still adds up very quickly” for the working poor or those on fixed incomes.

“The impact of what we are able to do every second Wednesday is the thankfulness on every face,” Baker said. “They’re just so thankful and they express that to us all the time.

“They also know if they need prayer, a volunteer or staff member will pray with them. We are definitely somewhere they know they will get help and know that volunteers treat them as humans, with love as Christ would.”

For more information on The Salvation Army’s Summit County Area Services and the Akron, Ohio, Citadel, go to