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Ohio food pantries are bringing home the bacon, thanks to a local county fair initiative

A pink and black pig looks through the bars of its pen.
Erin Gottsacker
The Ohio Newsroom
Nearly 200 pigs were sold at the Perry County fair. About a third were donated to the community foundation's Fill the Freezer campaign.

As the hog auction at the Perry County fair gets underway, one kid after another leads their pig into a pen, steering it in front of an audience on camp chairs and bleachers.

“Four, four, four-fifty, five, will ya give me five?” the auctioneer fires off at breakneck speed. “Sold!”

Some bidders will stock their freezers with this meat. Others buy a pig and return it to the child who raised it, giving it more time to grow or breed.

But in the past few years, a new trend has taken hold at the Perry County fairgrounds: local people and businesses are buying pigs to donate the meat to local food pantries.

It’s a campaign called “Fill the Freezer — one pig at a time.”

“Anyone who purchases hogs and feels that they want to help address food insecurity in the county, we want them to open up their hearts and their minds to donate their hog,” said Tony Fiore, president of the Community Foundation for Perry County, which is leading the effort. “Our slogan is simply, ‘No one goes hungry in Perry County.’”

Filling the freezer

Local pantries say the initiative is picking up steam at a crucial time.

In 2022, the Community Foundation for Perry County found pantries in the region saw a 58 percent increase in foot traffic.

And demand is continuing to climb, says Eva Bloom, director of development for the Southeast Ohio food bank.

She says that’s partly because of the end of pandemic-era benefits.

"I think we can actually set an example to address food insecurity across the entire state."
Tony Fiore, President of the Community Foundation for Perry County

“Folks have not gotten those additional dollars,” she said, “and we have seen that increase the number of folks who are coming to us directly here at the food bank and also to our partner pantries.”

Amidst this rise in need, Bloom says some of the hardest foods for pantries to stock are “center-of-the-plate” proteins — in other words meats, like sausage and pork.

“Providing such high quality and nutritious products to the pantries makes a huge difference in the health of the folks who are relying on some of this food to fill the gaps that they can't purchase from the store,” she said.

Last year, Perry County’s Fill the Freezer campaign kept the freezers at nine local pantries stocked with pork for nine months. Tony Fiore said that was enough to feed more than 14,000 people.

This time, it’s aiming to keep the freezers full even longer.

And now, the initiative is spreading to other counties. Hocking, Vinton and Gallia counties in Southeast Ohio are all starting their own Fill the Freezer campaigns.

“It starts with one county trying to do this and a few others now trying to do it,” Fiore said. “But I think we can actually set an example to address food insecurity across the entire state.”

A man and a woman pose for a picture at a county fair. They are wearing blue t-shirts with a black and white pig and the logo "Fill the Freezer, one pig at a time."
Erin Gottsacker
The Ohio Newsroom
Tony Fiore, president of the Community Foundation for Perry County, and Sherri Simons, director of outreach for the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio, attend the hog auction with their "Fill the Freezer" shirts.

One pig at a time

Back at the auction house, 15-year-old Mylie Forgrave just sold her pig.

She’s been auctioning off pigs at the fair for eight years. This year, her pig filled the freezer.

“It feels really good to know that my pig is going to be giving people meat, meals on the table,” she said.

For Tony Fiore, this is another major benefit of the program.

“They see the community good that comes out of that animal,” he said. “To me, that hopefully is setting an example for a younger generation to take the mantle and keep on doing even better things than we have in the future.”

By the end of the hog auction, 67 pigs were donated to local pantries — enough, Fiore hopes, to fill the freezers for a full year.

Erin Gottsacker is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently reported for WXPR Public Radio in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.