Child Hunger Programs will be ramped up for us starting in 2016. We received a two-year grant from C&S Warehouse, a national food distribution company that operates in Yorktown in what used to be a Marsh Perishable Food warehouse, that will provide funding for a position to research, develop community partnerships and implement programs focused on food insecure children. We have just hired the staff person who will be our Child Hunger Coordinator. Development will begin to take shape shortly after the New Year as she ramps up her knowledge of food bank operations and dives deep into all the resources offered to us by Feeding America, our national affiliate.
We have some pretty alarming statistics in this country and in this region of the state that identify children who are missing at least some meals each week. Through the efforts of Map the Meal Gap, an annual study conducted through Feeding America by the Nielson Company and funded by Howard Buffet (a champion for hunger-related efforts and the son of billionaire, Warren Buffet), we are given details, by county, in every state in the union to help us understand the size of our target locally. For several years the national statistic has been that roughly 1 in every 4 of our children under age 18 are food insecure. That number is true here at the local level as well. Within our region of 8 counties in East Central Indiana, there are some local social service agencies who have data that suggest it is 1 in 3 children in their community. I value and acknowledge their findings as they may bring more attention to and spur greater effort toward addressing what will be done.
So that is the question, what will we do, now that we know?
We continue to see high percentages by school of children who qualify for free and reduced lunch programs and breakfast programs. In some individual schools, the number is above 90% of the students, and some school systems average over 70% in larger communities. The reality that is equally as staggering is the lack of access to meals when school is not in session. This includes summer break, fall break, holiday break, spring break and school closing due to weather. I probably have not listed all of them as some have other breaks on top of these. We have a few local partners in some communities that have taken on programs to provide a grade level or whole school with a grocery bag of food for the weekend once a month or sometimes more often, depending on the level of engagement by the donor.
One of our strengths as a regional food bank is that a high percentage (28%) of all food we distribute is fresh produce. We are very accustomed to receiving and distributing produce on a very large scale. This should help us as we begin to forge new relationships in all the communities we serve to focus on the worst circumstance in our community: children that are hungry.
Written by Tim Kean