Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
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Hunger hits Hoosiers harder recently

By Jon Murray on November 18, 2012
© indystar.com

During the recession, more families have struggled to eat enough.

About 13.2 percent of Hoosiers were described as "food insecure" in a report issued in September by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which doesn't release county-by-county results. Indiana ranked 35th down from the two most food insecure states, based on data collected from 2009 to 2011.

But the amount of residents who sometimes go hungry increased by 7 percent from the USDA's report two years ago.

An anti-hunger initiative -- kicked off by the Indianapolis mayor's office a few years ago -- has resulted in closer collaboration among the roughly 300 organizations working to reduce hunger. Most are small food pantries run by churches, other houses of worship and nonprofits.

Early this year, the city and the participating groups -- including Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, Second Helpings and Midwest Food Bank -- christened the consortium the Indy Hunger Network.

It has an ambitious goal: to expand programs and food stamp benefits so that by 2015, nobody in the city has to miss a meal.

That would mean providing an estimated 185 million meals a year, according to the network's projections. Two years ago, the city was an estimated 27 million meals short of that gap, but it's making up ground.

Gleaners and Second Helpings both are working to double their capacity, said David J. Miner, the network's volunteer chairman.

Federal food programs including food stamps already account for nine in 10 meals provided to the hungry in Indianapolis. Network partners are brainstorming ways to increase awareness of federal benefits, because roughly 30 percent of those eligible aren't signed up, according to Miner.

Even reducing that proportion by 8 percentage points could ensure access to 8 million to 9 million more meals, he said.

So far, there have been modest gains, including 240,000 more meals served to schoolchildren through the revamped Summer Servings program and through the BackSacks program, through which Gleaners provides food to schoolchildren to take home each weekend.

"This year, we're on track for 3 million additional meals, for all ages," said Miner, a retired Eli Lilly & Co. scientist. He also leads the Indianapolis Interfaith Hunger Initiative and Bread for the World, a hunger advocacy group.

Through the network, efficiency experts provided by Lilly and its subsidiary, Elanco Animal Health, have scrutinized several organizations' operations, suggesting improvements.

A couple years ago, Miner said, the partners decided it was wasteful for small pantries to purchase food at retail prices.

"Gleaners said, 'Hey, we'll just order those by the truckload, and we'll give them to you at cost,'" Miner said.

Last week, Mayor Greg Ballard kicked off the city's annual Pack the Pantries food drive, which runs through Dec. 10.

Ballard regularly touts the anti-hunger groups' work as well as the proliferation of urban gardens, particularly in high-poverty neighborhoods.

He says he's optimistic about meeting the 2015 goal.

"I think it's close," he said. "We need to continue to get (various programs) to scale to get to how many we think really need it. I don't think we're that far away -- the people who are doing it think we're a lot further away -- but you can kind of see it building."

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