Op-ed/guest editorial, attributed to Emily Weikert Bryant, Executive Director of Feeding Indiana’s Hungry, the state association of Feeding America affiliate food banks
Families Are Facing a Food Crisis, And Soon So Will Food Banks
Sandra and 3 year old Micah visited Gleaners Food Bank for the first time in April. Sandra worked in sales at a downtown hotel that had been devastated by cancelled conventions and sporting events. After struggling for a few weeks, she swallowed her pride and asked for help. A friend directed her to Gleaners where she could get fresh, healthy food for her growing son. Micah was all smiles as he told staff he was “going on an adventure to get food.” Among other items he received that day, he was most excited about a bag of apples and an extra treat – ice cream!
Sandra and her son are among many people – many for the first time – who receive help from the member food banks of Feeding Indiana’s Hungry with putting food on the table during these hard times.
Since early spring, the Feeding America network of 200 food banks, including 11 food banks serving Indiana, has been at the frontlines of providing food assistance to help people like Sandra weather unimaginable conditions: the largest U.S. public health crisis in a century, staggering unemployment numbers, and a 50-year high for grocery prices. As we continue serving Indiana, we are also anticipating a major challenge that will make it harder to ensure no one goes hungry: a steep decline in food.
Nationally, USDA food purchases of U.S. grown food make up around 30 percent of all food distributed by the Feeding America network of food banks, partner pantries, and meal programs. This nutritious food helps our food banks provide families and individuals with enough to eat. USDA food is expected to decline by 50 percent next year. At the same time, the Feeding America network is experiencing a sustained 60 percent increase in demand for food, as the pandemic and economic downturn continue with no end in sight.
Less food plus more need: this is an equation that translates to more people being turned away from food banks without the help they need. This devastating outcome can be avoided if the federal government revisits this cut to the amount of necessary and nutritious food we receive.
Every year, the USDA helps to move billions of pounds of healthy food from farmers to food banks to families – helping to ensure produce, dairy, and other pantry staples don’t go to waste and, instead, fuel students for school and help cash-strapped seniors keep their plates full. However, under current policy, USDA will scale back food support for food banks, spelling disaster for the ability of the member food banks of Feeding Indiana’s Hungry to help our neighbors facing dire circumstances.
There are few easy answers for decisionmakers as they try to get us through this public health and economic emergency – but the problem facing Indiana’s food banks is unique in that the answer is right in front of us. During a time of historic need, and when buying food is more expensive, the USDA has a critical opportunity to ensure food banks do not witness a dramatic decline in the food needed to support the thousands of people we serve. Fewer parents choosing between keeping the lights on and buying groceries, fewer single mothers skipping meals, and more people like Sandra getting back on their feet is riding on whether our government seizes the opportunity.
About Feeding Indiana’s Hungry
Feeding Indiana’s Hungry, Inc. is the statewide association of Feeding America affiliated food banks.
Member food banks include:
Food Bank of Northwest Indiana, Merrillville
Food Bank of Northern Indiana, South Bend
Food Finders Food Bank, Inc., Lafayette
Community Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Indiana, Ft. Wayne
Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana, Inc., Muncie
Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank, Terre Haute
Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, Indianapolis
Hoosier Hills Food Bank, Bloomington
Tri-State Food Bank, Inc., Evansville
Dare to Care Food Bank, Louisville, KY
Freestore Foodbank, Cincinnati, OH