The Herald Bulletin

Evening Update

Community

September 22, 2012

'The face of hunger is diversified'

Second Harvest on pace to distribute 12 million pounds of food in 2012

ANDERSON, Ind. —  Mira Lowe shuffled through the line at Park Place Church of God’s food pantry Wednesday afternoon.

She carefully selected items — melons, boxes of pasta and canned vegetables — with her friend filling her bags as she cradled the arm she’d recently broken.

The task, although now routine, is one Lowe, 55, never expected she would perform. Yet for the last 10 years she’s been dependent on donations from area food pantries. Without them, she’d go hungry.

“I have no idea what I’d do,” she said, the frustration and grief obvious. “I can’t afford everything; something would have to go.”

Lowe had a successful career as a sign language interpreter but about a decade ago was diagnosed with debilitating rheumatoid arthritis and was forced to go on 100 percent disability. In the beginning she received $10 a month in food stamps. Now, with cost of living adjustments, she receives $16 monthly — still nowhere near the cost for a month’s worth of food.

“I never thought I’d be here,” Lowe said. “And over the years I’ve seen the number of people in the same boat as me increase — a lot of young families, a lot of children. It’s sad.”

Statistics back up what she is seeing. In 2007 the pantry at Anderson’s Park Place Church of God served nearly 10,000 families, in 2011 nearly 17,000 and the number for 2012 is expected to exceed 18,000, said Joe Womack, one of the pantry’s volunteers.

And with the economy continuing to lag, the need will continue to rise, said Susan Land, director of development and fundraising at Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana.

“We don’t see much hope of things changing,” she said.

Land said Second Harvest — a clearinghouse for food for about 120 different programs and pantries in an eight-county area including Madison County — is distributing twice as much food today as it did just four years ago. They are on pace to distribute 12 million pounds of food for 2012 while in 2008 they distributed 5.5 million.

Right now they are able to keep up, but with a continued increase in need and state or federal funding cuts they may not be.

While September is Hunger Action Month, the activities that places like Second Harvest promote can be done year round.

“There are three things you can do every day of the year — volunteer at a local food pantry or here at our warehouse, donate money or advocate for those struggling with hunger,” Land said. “Talk to your politician about hunger relief, talk to family and friends.”

Second Harvest President and CEO Tim Kean said there are always opportunities for people to address hunger in their communities, pointing out that even a $1 donation goes a long way providing four meals. And like others, he pointed out that the need is great — one in four children in Madison County is considered food insecure, meaning they lack access to enough food to fully meet basic needs at all times.

“The reality is, we are at the point where it is very difficult to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t know someone struggling,” Kean said. “Five years ago, I don’t think it was quite as easy to put a face to hunger. I think today it is very easy.”

Families that may have been on the brink — operating paycheck to paycheck — may find themselves forced to make tough decisions like paying the rent or buying groceries.

“This is not acceptable,” Kean said. “The reality is, this is a solvable situation. This month gets people talking about ways they can help and raise awareness about this situation. There are an awful lot of stereotypes out there about who is getting this assistance. But really, it is a very different picture. We want to get that out there.”

That picture includes Frances Cooper, a 37-year-old mom to two who is also helping support her 4-month-old grandson. She’d been struggling to make ends meet for several months when about two years ago she got to the point she was unable to feed her family. She turned to a friend for help who referred her to one of several food pantries in the area.

“It’s a blessing,” Cooper said. “I thank God for all the help I’ve received. I got down to nothing; I was blessed to get help.”

Womack said the pantry at Park Place operates five days a week — 12:30 to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursdays. Families can come every two weeks and get a variety of foods including meats and fresh produce when it is available.

Some of their clients, or neighbors as he likes to call them, come every two weeks and others come only once or twice. Many, he said, find themselves in a situation they never expected.

“So many families are working hard but are operating right at the crisis line,” Womack said. “When something unexpected happens, the battery needs replaced or it’s time to buy school supplies, they come to us for food.”

Land said many of their clients in the past few years were first-time clients — underemployed, single moms or laid-off workers.

“The face of hunger is very diversified,” she said. “You can’t pigeon hole it to one person. Hunger affects everyone.”

Find Abbey Doyle on Facebook and @heraldbulletin on Twitter, or call 640-4805.

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