NEWTOWN, Ohio -- It was two months to the day after Hank Slone and his wife signed the closing papers to buy their new home when he got the bad news.
The company where Slone had worked for nearly a year had to cut the budget, and his job was being eliminated.
His wife, Rachael, gets disability payments that cover the couple's monthly mortgage and utilities, but they counted on Slone's paycheck to cover everything else. Now unemployment only pays half of what Slone was earning at his old job, which means money has been tight.
"We've been surviving," Slone said. "Not flourishing by any means. But we're doing OK."
That's how the Slones wound up being some of the very first clients at Inter Parish Ministry's new Choice Food Pantry in Amelia. They stopped by the pantry's grand opening and walked up and down the tidy, well-stocked aisles to fill a shopping cart with food they selected for themselves, their 10-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter.
"When we went to the cereal part, and they had Frosted Mini Wheats -- that's my son's favorite cereal," Slone said. "When he came home from school that day and I showed him what we got, you can better believe he had a bowl of cereal right there."
With all the energy that community and business leaders are investing to reduce concentrated poverty in our region's inner cities, it's easy to forget that nearly every corner of the Tri-State has neighbors in need.
Eastern Hamilton County and Clermont County have far fewer resources to help those neighbors, however. And that's why Inter Parish Ministry on Oct. 5 opened the new food pantry -- its third location -- in Amelia. Inter Parish Mission's primary location is in Newtown, and it has a Batavia food pantry that's open on Saturday mornings.
"In Clermont County, transportation is very, very difficult for many people. They just can't get to the pantries," said Lindsey Ein, Inter Parish Ministry's executive director. "We think this (new location) will be a blessing to the residents of Clermont County who won't have to drive to Newtown."
Providing food, clothing and hope
Food isn't the only help that Inter Parish Ministry offers. The organization also has gently used clothing available in a wide range of sizes. And the organization has annual programs that address back-to-school and holiday needs.
During 2015, Inter Parish Ministries served 4,321 families, or 14,076 individuals, with its food and clothing pantries. Its mobile pantries served 2,114 families, or 6,032 individuals.
Of that total, 18 percent of the people served were first-time visitors to the pantries, Ein said.
The organization supplied 239 children with backpacks, school supplies and shoe gift cards for the new school year.
And 375 families got Christmas gifts, turkey and food gift cards as part of the Adopt a Family program for the holiday.
The nonprofit's Toy Store program also gave clients an opportunity to buy Christmas gifts for 100 children.
Thirty different churches support Inter Parish Ministry financially, through donations and volunteer hours, Ein said. A number of local businesses and community partners help, too.
The organization needs all of the help it can get to provide all that assistance with an annual budget of only about $500,000, Ein said.
Karen Thomas has been volunteering at Inter Parish Ministry for the past six years.
"There is so much need in the world, it breaks your heart," she said. "But at the same time, it's a blessing for you. I love just meeting these people and hearing their stories."
Most of the people that Thomas meets at Inter Parish Ministry have jobs and are working hard, she said.
"Overall, most people just want normalcy in their lives, and they want a good life for their kids," she said. "So many people just don't have hope. And Inter Parish Ministry provides that for a lot of people."
'Over the edge'
With unemployment rates dropping, national headlines have reassured that the economy is getting better.
But there are still plenty of families with parents who are working two or three jobs to try to get by, said Gail Koford, Inter Parish Ministry's development director.
"The full economy is someone to me who might have three jobs in order to sustain themselves because of the minimum wage and because employers don't want to pay health care benefits," she said.
For those families, all it takes is one major health care crisis, a big car repair or some other unexpected expense to send them into a tailspin.
"We're seeing people that life kind of hit them hard and there was just that one thing that set them over the edge," Ein said.
For Hank Slone, that thing was losing one of the best jobs he ever had.
Slone has been looking for work, he said, but it's been difficult to find a job with the kind of hours that will allow him to spend time with his family.
As he continues to search, Slone and his wife work to provide the basics for their family and try to make sure their kids continue to feel safe and secure.
The family is grateful that the new Amelia food pantry is open, and Slone said he knows lots of other families in eastern Hamilton County and Clermont County will be, too.
"Obviously, we're not the only ones going through this right now," he said. "But there are people there to help. There is hope, and you've got to hold onto that hope."
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and also shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about childhood poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty.