A recent study found that more than 12 percent of Johnson County residents have limited access to the amount and quality of food needed to live a healthy life. That means that more than 17,000 people, including 7,000 children, don’t know when or where their next meal will come from.
The study done by Feeding America illuminates a problem that often is hidden from public view, according to Emily Weikert Bryant, executive director of Feeding Indiana’s Hungry.
“There’s a lot of folks who are unaware that hunger and food insecurity exist in Indiana,” she said. “This shows that not only does it occur in Indiana but in every county in Indiana. There are still a large number of people who don’t know where their next meal will come from and how.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food insecurity means that people have limited financial means to get all of the nutrition they need each day. That could mean that they are on a fixed income or nutritional assistance programs, requiring them to budget throughout the month. They could be homeless and have no regular access to food.
“It may not be every day, but at times they have difficulty getting what they need,” Bryant said.
Data collected since 2010 show the level of food insecurity in Johnson County going up gradually. That year, 11.9 percent of the population was uncertain about where their food would come from, compared with 12.2 percent in 2012, the most recent data released. An estimated 6,400 children age 17 and younger did not have consistent access to food in 2010, compared with 6,730 in 2012.
Carol Phipps, co-manager of the Interchurch Food Pantry in Franklin, recently reported that the pantry is feeding 27 percent more people than it did at the start of 2013.
She said a combination of the end of unemployment benefits for a large number of people and reduced food stamp and veterans support payments is driving the increase. Whatever the reason, more and more people are finding the jobs they have can’t cover their food expenses.
“We have been hearing this for a while, that people are underemployed,” she said. “They’ve either had to take a part-time job or lower-paying job than they did. Though they’re working, they’re not bringing in enough to feed themselves or their families.”
The issue of hunger in our community is not showing any signs of lessening. So it is important, even vital, for those of us who can to step forward and help neighbors in need. We do it at Christmastime through the Good Cheer Fund and for several months each year during the United Way campaign.
Now area residents who turn to the Interchurch Food Pantry, Human Services Inc. or any of the other pantry operations need our help. Donate nonperishable food items or organize a food drive through an organization you belong to. And while it might sound impersonal, donating money will go a long way toward helping and with greater efficiency.
As Phipps said, “Where we can really benefit is the people who can bring in canned food from food drives. It’s wonderful where food groups and church groups can provide us with food that we can turn around and hand right to the people who need it.”
Organizers of food pantry operations would like nothing better than to close due to a lack of clients. But until that happens, they need our help.