Guest Column: Erin Hollinden is a writer and agency relations coordinator for the Hoosier Hills Food Bank, which distributes food to 100 agencies in six Indiana counties. A list of Bloomington services for those in need of food assistance, or those wishing to donate or volunteer, is at the end of the article.
It used to be, when people heard the words “food insecurity,” they thought of people in Africa, Asia, and Appalachia, forgetting about their neighbors right here at home. But numbers from the latest Map the Food Gap report show that one in seven Indiana residents — and one in five Indiana children — is food insecure, without sufficient access to affordable, nutritious food. One in six Hoosiers utilizes food pantries and meal programs supplied by food banks, which translates to more than one million Indiana residents being affected, according to Feeding Indiana’s Hungry. Of those households served by food pantries, between 63 and 78 percent, depending on the need, report having to choose between paying for food and paying for utilities or paying for transportation or paying for medical care or even paying for housing.
Monroe Countians want to help. The amount of food collected in food drives for Hoosier Hills Food Bank (HHFB) is up 11 percent so far in 2017 over last year, according to HHFB food sourcer Brandon Bartley. Still, donating food can feel like treating a symptom — perpetuating a “just getting by” approach — and not solving the larger problem. But what is the larger problem?
Root causes of hunger around the world are hard to tackle: rising economic and racial inequality, generational poverty, and undemocratic food and agricultural systems that are not economically or environmentally fair. To better understand, I asked local hunger-relief leaders about what causes hunger in Monroe County. Their consistent answer: low wages.
Amanda Nickey, Executive Director, Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard
From Amanda Nickey’s perspective on the front line of the fight against hunger, “It comes down to people not having enough money. It’s not like there’s a lack of food in the community.” For more than seven years, Nickey has been executive director of Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, south-central Indiana’s most-used food pantry. HHFB disburses food to 100 member agencies in six counties — food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, day cares, and rehab programs. Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, or the Hub, is just one of them, yet it distributes about a third of all of HHFB’s food, serving more than 4,800 households each month.
Nickey sites data from the Indiana Institute for Working Families, showing that in Monroe County one adult with two children needs to earn $24.83 per hour to be self-sufficient, covering child care, housing, food, and transportation. “The available jobs in the community do not match that,” she says, adding that many Hub patrons have chronic illnesses from which they may never recover physically or financially.
Besides providing food with as little paperwork as possible for patrons, the Hub offers gardening and nutrition education as well as a tool share program that lends gardening and cooking supplies. And the Hub hosts an Advocacy Working Group, made up of volunteers and patrons who meet once a month or more to listen to each other’s stories and discuss issues like food security, healthcare, and housing. They write letters to the editor, lobby legislators, and register pantry patrons to vote. As Nickey explains, “We want to provide opportunities to people who might not often feel like their voice matters but who are most directly affected by the farm bill and changes to SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps] — that’s who our representatives need to hear from. We’re providing a space for that.”
Dan Combs, Perry Township Trustee
Dan Combs has been helping deliver emergency food assistance as Perry Township trustee, on the south side of Bloomington, for 30 years. Monroe County has 11 elected trustees who help constituents with basic necessities such as rent, utilities, food, and medical care, in addition to their core responsibilities of fire protection and cemeteries. Perry, Richland (northwest of Bloomington), and Bloomington (north side of Bloomington) townships run food pantries, each of which gives free groceries to between 50 and 250 households each month.
Combs believes that underemployment and lack of employment are the primary causes of hunger in Perry Township. “It’s inadequate wages,” he says. “There are so many part-time jobs here. We see people who are honestly working at three different fast-food places.” He laments the disappearance of factory jobs that afforded a middle-class lifestyle without requiring much education. Furthermore, Combs thinks employers are too quick to terminate workers based on strict attendance policies: “If your car breaks down, you get fired. If your child gets sick, you get fired.”
One solution he envisions is creating “a community employer check.” Before a company terminates someone, Combs says, an advocate in the trustee’s office “could find out if they have a valid reason for missing work — illness, child care, transportation — then go back to the employer and help resolve that issue.” Meanwhile, Perry Township supports organizations that offer job training, life-skills coaching, and food, such as New Leaf – New Life, Shalom Community Center, Community Kitchen of Monroe County, and A Friend’s Place (a homeless shelter operated by the Shalom Community Center in a building owned by Perry Township).
Erin Predmore, Executive Director, Monroe County United Ministries
In the three years Erin Predmore has been executive director of Monroe County United Ministries (MCUM), she has led the organization to rebrand itself as a “Self-Sufficiency Center.” Predmore, too, says simply, “It’s an issue of income. Most of our people work, and either they don’t have enough hours or they’re not paid enough for the hours they work. They’re trying to stretch the little bit of resources they have, but they don’t have enough resources.”
MCUM’s food pantry serves almost 200 households per month, while its self-sufficiency coaches teach financial literacy and help clients get SNAP benefits, Section 8 housing, job training, and rent and utilities assistance. This fall, Predmore says, the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA) began a program that enables MCUM to administer individual development accounts to which federal and state funds contribute four dollars for every one dollar the client saves. IHCDA clients get credit counseling and budgeting training and are able to access their saved money for home improvements or down payments on houses and cars.
To work on the wages problem, Predmore is especially excited about Regional Opportunity Initiatives, Inc. (ROI). The project, funded by a grant from Eli Lilly and Company through the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County, matches job training with workforce development needs. “We have companies like Crane and Cook and Baxter,” she points out. “How do we make sure we have enough quality employees so that they are able to hire our citizens? ROI is working to align those pieces so that job development works for both residents and employers. A large, systemic change like that — so that more people can make a decent living — that helps with those root causes of hunger.”
A few more figures:
According to the Indiana Institute for Working Families, Indiana has the 22nd highest poverty rate among the 50 states, with 39 percent of single moms with children under 18 living in poverty. A recent Perry Township study showed 49 percent of clients seeking emergency assistance from Perry Township reported having at least some college education, and the age range represented most has been 25 to 34. While most metrics show poverty in Indiana declining, hunger and food insecurity are problems that won’t go away overnight. Here is a list of resources, courtesy of Hoosier Hills Food Bank, for those who need food assistance and for those wishing to volunteer or donate.
Monroe County Food Pantries and Hot Meals Provided by Hoosier Hills Food Bank
Some food pantries are located in a church. You are not required to be a member of the church or attend religious services to receive assistance at these locations.
Hoosier Hills Food Bank (which does not distribute food to individuals but is in need of volunteers and donations)
2333 W. Industrial Park Dr., Bloomington
334-8374; Mon-Fri 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Area 10 Agency on Aging
630 W. Edgewood, Ellettsville
876-3383; call about eligibility
Bloomington Township Trustee
2111 W. Fountain Dr., Bloomington
336-4976; Mon-Fri, 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m.
Bobby’s Pantry/Perry Township Trustee
1010 S. Walnut, Bloomington
336-3713; Mon-Fri, 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Crestmont Community Food Pantry/Bloomington Housing Authority
1007 N. Summit St., Bloomington
339-3491; Thu, 3:30-4 p.m.
Campus View Apartments
800 N. Union, Room 189, Bloomington
855-1924; call for hours
Feed the Needy at Second Baptist Church
321 N. Rogers St., Bloomington
336-5827; Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri, 10 a.m.-noon
First Assembly of God Food Pantry
115 W. Association St., Ellettsville
876-4334; first Wed of the month, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
First United Methodist Church Food Pantry
219 E. 4th St., Bloomington
332-6396; Wed, 3:30-5:30 p.m.
Genesis Church Food Pantry
801 E. State Road 45/46 Bypass, Bloomington
336-5757; call for an appointment
Grace Center Food Pantry
9206 S. Old State Road 37, Harrodsburg
329-0337; Thu, 3-7 p.m.
Highland Faith Assembly of God Food Pantry
4782 W. State Road 48, Bloomington
332-3707; Mon-Fri, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
MCUM Self-Sufficiency Center Food Pantry
827 W. 14th Ct., Bloomington
339-3429; Mon, Thu, Fri, noon-5 p.m.; and Tue, noon-7 p.m.
Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard
1100 W. Allen St., Bloomington
355-6843; Mon-Fri, noon-6 p.m.
501 E. Temperance, Ellettsville
606-1524; Mon, Wed 4-6 p.m.; and Sat 3-5 p.m.
Richland Township Trustee
102 S. Park, Ellettsville
876-2509; Mon-Fri, 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
Salvation Army of Bloomington
111 N. Rogers St., Bloomington
336-4310; Wed, 9-11:30 a.m.; and Tue, Thu, 1-3:30 p.m.
421 S. Curry Pike, Bloomington
336-7224; last Thu of the month, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Walnut Grove Food Pantry
3100 S. Walnut St. Pike, Bloomington
339-3980; third Fri of the month, 3:45 p.m.
Community Kitchen of Monroe County
1515 S. Rogers St., Bloomington
332-0999; Mon-Sat 4-6 p.m.
Community Kitchen Express
1100 W. 11th St., Bloomington
332-0999; Mon-Sat 4-6 p.m.
Shalom Community Center
620 S. Walnut, Bloomington
332-1514; seven days a week, 8-9 a.m. and noon-1:30 p.m.