The hundreds of people lined up each Saturday morning outside Community Harvest Food Bank represent the human face of a struggle put to numbers in the latest Hunger in America study.
Waiting for meager supplies of surplus food in bitter cold, sweltering
heat or driving rain, they are a small fraction of the thousands served
by food distributions, pantries and soup kitchens across the
nine-county region where the food bank operates.
At Community Harvest, demand rose 85 percent since the survey was last done, in 2006. The number of people who reported receiving assistance
every week jumped by 50 percent, likely boosted by an ill-advised
welfare-outsourcing contract. To add insult to injury, the state’s
paltry pledge of $300,000 in food bank support statewide has yet to be
“It’s startling. I shouldn’t be surprised by numbers anymore, but I am,” said Jane Avery, executive director of Community Harvest. “I knew we were busy, but I didn’t think we could be
serving that many.”
The regional food bank actually serves more than the survey showed. The report covers only emergency assistance, not food provided to homebound older residents or to
children at child care and community center meal sites. The programs
surveyed – including food pantries and soup kitchens and the Farm Wagon
program distributing food in Ligonier, Albion, Wolf Lake and elsewhere
across the region and from the Community Harvest warehouse on Tillman
Road – served emergency food to about 90,000 different people last
year. These included more than 21,000 residents who return for food
Forty-five percent of those served are children younger than 18 – up from 38 percent in 2006, when the last local survey was done.
In spite of assertions that Indiana is weathering the downturn better than other states, the northeast Indiana numbers reveal an even more troubling picture than the nationwide
Hunger in America report. The survey found that 37 million people
received assistance through food banks last year, a 46 percent increase
Coincidentally, the survey offers more evidence that Gov. Mitch Daniels made a serious mistake in outsourcing the state’s welfare eligibility process to IBM Corp. and Affiliated
Computer Services in a 10-year, $1.3 billion contract: The percentage
of Community Harvest clients who also received food stamps dropped from
41 percent to 28 percent. By contrast, the national hunger survey found
a 64 percent increase in the number of food bank clients who received
In the 59 Indiana counties where the process was privatized, including northeast Indiana, there were widespread complaints benefits were wrongly denied because of errors. Nationally,
the number of food stamp recipients has climbed by about 10 million
over the past two years. The nine-county region served by Community
Harvest had a 12.1 percent unemployment rate, hardly a figure that
would support a declining number of food stamp-eligible families.
The IBM contract has been canceled, but the burden outsourcing placed on food banks and other charitable groups remains.
Indiana lawmakers last year denied a request from Feeding Indiana’s Hungry, the statewide food bank network, to place a check-off option on state
income tax reforms for donations.
They opted instead for a $300,000 appropriation in the two-year budget, but the money has yet to be released. It should be made available immediately.
If Hoosiers can agree on one thing, it should be that their neighbors don’t go hungry in a state that prides itself on agricultural roots.
The hunger report is a call to action.