For over 10 years, I've woken up every morning knowing I'm going to help people - including those suffering from food insecurity, eviction, clothing insecurity, health disparities, and more - It's gratifying work, but I also imagine a world where our most basic human needs are already met, so charitable and governmental assistance isn't necessary. But, this isn't the world we live in.
The pandemic was a lens for various disparities in our community - from an overtly weak supply chain, to inequitable access to food, medicine, education, and housing, to the financial limitations small and big businesses alike experienced, and more.
Our community flourished in some ways and in others there was a lack of a coordinated response. One issue I'm all to familiar with is FOOD INSECURITY - a critical need we ALL have, and one that serves as a litmus test for the health and well-being or our community in other facets of life.
On any given day...
in the U.S., over 35 million people, or 11%, are experiencing food insecurity and 2 million are children,*
in Indiana, 834,530 Hoosiers, or 12.4%, are facing food insecurity, and
in Allen County, 51,850 residents, or 15%, are food insecure.
Food insecurity first made the news as parents and guardians who relied on schools feeding their children during school hours, now faced providing more food than budgeted. And, for many working adults - especially those working low wage jobs - having children at home unsupervised was an added stressor as well as not having the technology or broadband service for them to be educated equitably.
Another layer of food insecurity many aren't aware of is that most small church-based food pantries are run by older volunteers, so when the pandemic erupted, many of those pantries closed. With the lack of a vaccine in 2020, their desire to shut-down was understandable, however, many food insecure people were left without these critical food supports. So, while working at Wellspring, I adjusted policies easing access to the Food Bank while increasing Wellspring's Mobile Food Pantry efforts to get food to those in need - and for many, it was the first time they'd ever experienced food insecurity
The number of neighbors in our community who were, and remain, one to two paychecks away from putting dinner on the table nightly remains staggering. There are teachers, factory workers, college students, seniors, single parents, immigrants/refugees, and more who continue to sit in drive-thru lines waiting for food.
In 2020, I worked alongside Community Harvest, our Feeding America distribution center in Northeastern Indiana, by inviting key stakeholders to the table, including township trustees, for the creation of a more coordinated food response. The end result was greater participation for Community Harvest food drop-offs and distribution sites, thereby getting more food to those needing it most.
But, there's still more work to be done.
In Allen County alone, 22% of our community is considered 'working poor' or ALICE households.* ALICE stands for 'Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed'. These households earn income above the federal poverty line, but below the basic cost of living. In other words, these households don't earn enough money to make ends meet, but make too much to qualify for government and/or private assistance programs - hence, the 'working poor.'
And, 12% of Allen County residents are living at or below the poverty line. And, in certain zip codes and townships in my House District, the numbers are even more concerning.
Neighbors living in poverty and the 'working poor' by township in HD 82:*
52% in Wayne Township
47% in Adams Township
37% in Washington Township
32% in St Joseph Township
In other words...
1 of every 3 people in Allen County are in economic distress of some kind.
1 of every 2 persons living in the 46803 zip code live in poverty.
1 of every 2 persons living in Wayne Township live in poverty.
1 of every 3 people in Washington and St Joseph Townships live in poverty.
1 of every 3 people in the 46802 and 46806 zip codes live in poverty.
By improving the lives of our neighbors,
we ALL benefit from a healthier community
that's living and working to its fullest potential.
*Data from the USDA, Feeding America, Statistical Atlas, The St. Joseph Community Health Foundation, United Way of Allen County