Jeena Siela, Senior Community Leadership Officer, Hamilton County Community Foundation
Tracey Horth Krueger, Nonprofit Consultant
According to Feeding America, the annual income for the households it serves is $9,175.00. Approximately $764 per month for rent, utilities, food, medicine. That means that every single day, people are making very difficult choices. Buy food or pay for utilities. Buy food or medicine. Buy food or pay rent.
That is reality for Hamilton County resident Robert and his family. Robert is one of three people featured in the documentary The Working Hungry which was recently screened at the Hamilton County Community Foundation Collaboration Hub. The Working Hungry is a 30-minute film built around the stories of three Hoosier families and through them, the stories of more than 700,000 people across the state who are working families and their hunger is hidden from those around them. [newsletter blurb] Robert’s story is highlighted in the film: he is a veteran who served tours in Bosnia and Afghanistan and moved his family to Hamilton County for the schools. He continues to struggle to find a job that provides a comfortable living. He has a fulltime job, but finding affordable housing is a challenge. Robert shares in the documentary that they are living in a hotel and rely on donated food. He keeps moving forward. He keeps working. He keeps seeking independence.
Robert’s story is very familiar to the audience that attended the film screening. They are members of the Hamilton County Food Resource Coalition and work with food insecure people every day. For two years, the coalition has been working collaboratively to ensure that every resident in Hamilton County has access to healthy food.
They are painfully aware that 15% of children across the state do not have enough to eat, with Indiana ranking higher than the national average. They are very familiar with the data from Gleaners Food Bank that 22,370 Hamilton County residents are food insecure, including 5,110 children.
They know that the need is only increasing. Rural pantries report that clients are coming more often, and pantry shelves are emptying quicker. Hamilton County Harvest Food Bank reports a 30% increase in need in 2023 and a 50% increase in food purchasing. Meals on Wheels reports 62% of its clients are requesting financial assistance which is a 52% increase since 2022.
During the discussion following the screening, coalition members shared their thoughts on why, post pandemic, food insecurity continues to increase.
- Lack of affordable housing
- Not making a livable wage
- Lack of affordable child care
- Increases in health care costs
- Lack of access to public transportation
- Unexpected expenses like an illness or car repair
It was during that discussion after the screening that the coalition determined the 2024 focus will be on the root causes of food insecurity and expand the coalition to include experts who can address them. In addition, the coalition will focus on supporting the entire food distribution system including increasing access to even more food to ensure that pantries are full and meals are available.
During the discussion, a panelist said, “We cannot pantry our way out of hunger.”
No, we cannot.
For more information on the Hamilton County Food Resource Coalition, visit https://www.hamiltoncountycommunityfoundation.org/. To learn how you can get involved, reach out to HamiltonCounty@cicf.org