By RICK A. RICHARDS
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — When the USDA released its latest results on food insecurity in Indiana, Emily Weikert Bryant wasn’t a bit surprised. As executive director of Feeding Indiana’s Hungry (FIsH), she said even though more food is being provided through the organization’s network of food pantries, it’s struggling to keep up with demand.
The Economic Research Service of the USDA issued the report that shows one in six Hoosiers struggled to afford enough food in the first six months of 2012, and that 13.2 percent of all Hoosier households are defined as “food insecure.” That is defined by the USDA as meaning families have adequate access to food, but access is limited by a lack of money and other resources.
“When times are hard like they are now, people have to make changes. Maybe they’re buying less or maybe they’re trying different things,” said Bryant. For instance, instead of buying name brand food items, some families may opt for store brands or a mid-line brand in order to save money.
“They may buy frozen orange juice or a concentrate instead of fresh orange juice,” she said.
According to FIsH, there are 912,000 Hoosiers using food stamps, a record high. “Some of those people have been added in recent months because they are unemployed and have exhausted all of their benefits,” said Bryant. “It seems like these reports come never bearing good news.”
She added that regardless of the politics of the moment in Indiana, food pantries are working to make sure Hoosiers have enough food to feed their families. “That’s simply the right thing to do,” she said.
According to the USDA report, food pantries in the United States provide only 4 percent of the nutrition families need. As a result, there has been increased use of food stamps.
“Food hardship continues to be far too high in this country and in our state,” said Bryant. “The numbers underscore the point that people still continue to struggle in every county and community in Indiana – rural, urban and suburban areas alike.”
Coupled with food insecurity, families live with the fear of going hungry. “The good thing is that last year, 66.4 million pounds of food was provided to families in Indiana’s 92 counties, up by 6 million pounds from 2010. Folks around Indiana are up to the challenge, but we don’t know how long they can keep that up,” she added.
Of that food provided in 2011, 25 percent came from the federal government, another 25 percent was purchased by food pantries and the rest was donated by manufacturers and retailers. Bryant is worried about maintaining that level of assistance if the USDA budget is cut and the feds are unable to allocate the amount of food they currently provide.
Bryant said more than half of people receiving help at Indiana’s food pantries are children and seniors. “The people most affected are those who can’t go out and change their income level,” she said. “Families, children, seniors and many working Hoosiers are struggling to put enough food on their tables. Our member food banks are distributing food at record-breaking rates doing their best to keep up.
“While the economy continues to recover, it is vital that federal food programs are maintained and that Hoosiers keep working together to help their friends and neighbors. No one should go hungry in Indiana, period.”
Nationally, the USDA report stated more than 50 million Americans are dealing with hunger, 17 million of those being children. FIsH has 11 member food banks that serve 1,700 agencies in every county. They are: Food Bank of Northwest Indiana, Gary; Food Bank of Northern Indiana, South Bend; Food Finders Food Bank Inc., Lafayette; Community Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Indiana, Fort Wayne; Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana, Inc., Muncie; Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, Indianapolis; Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank; Hoosier Hills Food Bank, Bloomington; Tri-State Food Bank, Inc., Evansville; Dare to Care Food Bank, Louisville, Ky.; and Freestore Foodbank, Cincinnati, Ohio.