Commentary by Tami Silverman
Summer break means higher food insecurity for children across Indiana. Nearly 2,500 kids in Boone County – 21 percent of its public school students – have reliable access to nutritious meals thanks to free or reduced-price lunch and breakfast programs during the school year. Yet when school ends, many of these young people struggle to get the fuel they need to thrive.
In fact, 15 percent of children and 11 percent of households in Boone County are deemed “food insecure” – a term the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as a socioeconomic condition of limited or uncertain access to food that supports a healthy life. And it happens in every corner of the state.
Rural areas usually have the highest rates of food insecurity, followed by urban and then suburban areas. Indiana data reflect those trends. Rural Fayette County had the state’s highest child food insecurity rate at 26 percent, urban Marion County was at 22 percent and suburban Hamilton County had the lowest at 14 percent. But that still equates to nearly 12,000 food-insecure children.
Experts say these families often choose between food and utilities, transportation, medical care or even housing. Emily Weikert Bryant with Feeding Indiana’s Hungry says most families they help buy cheaper food, get help from family or friends, or sell their possessions. More than a third even water down food or drinks, including infant formula.
FISH, the Indiana Department of Education and local food banks are teaming up for the Summer Food Service Program. IDOE officials say about 80 of Indiana’s 92 counties will have summer food sites to serve meals to eligible children during school breaks. To find one, call 2-1-1, visit www.doe.in.gov/nutrition/sfsp-parents-page or simply text “food” to 877-877.
But these food sites need help to operate. Most food pantries and soup kitchens have limited, if any, paid staff, making volunteers critical. And while organizations appreciate every donated product, they note each item must be sorted and inspected. Monetary donations allow food banks to turn each dollar into multiple meals by buying in bulk.
Those are ways in which we all can help Hoosier kids get the basic nutritional building blocks they need to grow and succeed. By working to ensure they have access to adequate, healthy food all year round, we can positively impact every child’s physical and mental well-being, academic achievement and future economic productivity.
Tami Silverman is CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute.