Food Security: Feeding Monroe County

Monroe County has a 16 percent food insecurity rate, higher than both the state and national averages, but what exactly does that mean? 
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that all those people are going hungry every day,” explained Julio Alonso, executive director of Hoosier Hills Food Bank. “But it means they are struggling to keep nutritious food on their tables.” 
Alonso joined Vicki Pierce, executive director of Community Kitchen, and Brandon Schurr from IU Division of Student Affair’s Crimson Cupboard and MCCSC School Board, for a panel discussion about food insecurity at the kickoff of the Wake Up! with United Way 2020 season on Thursday, February 13. Mark Fraley, associate director of IU Political and Civic Engagement, moderated this discussion about what food insecurity is, how it affects our community, and what is being done to combat it. 
Each of the represented organizations operates in a different way with the same unifying general mission: to ensure that Hoosiers have access to nutritious food.  
Hoosier Hills Food Bank was established in 1982 and serves a six-county region including Monroe, Brown, Lawrence, Orange, Owen, and Martin counties.  
“Our primary purpose is to rescue food that might otherwise be wasted and get it out to agencies that are serving people in need,” said Alonso.  
Community Kitchen opened its doors in 1983 and is now the largest provider of free meals in the community.  
“We are what most people think of traditionally as a soup kitchen,” said Pierce.  
In addition to traditional soup kitchen services, Community Kitchen is also out in our community delivering nutritious food to vulnerable populations. 
Crimson Cupboard is a food pantry that began as an Indiana University student organization five years ago. About a year ago, it was taken over by the IU Division of Student Affairs to help provide it with needed funding and staffing.  
According to Shurr, about 14,000 – 15,000 students on IU’s campus experience food insecurity. Crimson Cupboard is a resource that can provide these students with food and connections to important services that exist off campus. 
The three organizations work together, along with several others, in our community to end food insecurity. Community Kitchen and Crimson Cupboard are both partner agencies to Hoosier Hills Food Bank.  
The panel began the discussion by addressing what food insecurity is and how it differs from hunger. 
“The definition is essentially the lack of access to nutritional food on a regular basis,” said Alonso. While hunger is an individual feeling, food security is measurable, he explained.  
The food insecurity rate in our community has been declining. Between 2012 and 2017, it dropped 12 percent, according to Alonso. In that time, he said that Hooser Hills Food Bank’s distribution rate increased 33 percent.  
The discussion continued with a question for the panelists about stigma and misconceptions that they see around being food insecure.  
Pierce explained that in her experience, many people have the misconception that all who go to Community Kitchen are “homeless and addicts.” 
“Folks experiencing homelessness and folks that have substance abuse issues are also people, and they have a right to eat,” she said. “But that’s not also the predominant number of people that we see.” 
Community Kitchen serves anyone who needs a meal, no questions asked. Much of their outreach work focuses on families and children. They have several programs that help provide children with healthy lunches and snacks at school and at home. 
At Crimson Cupboard, Schurr explained he often sees the misconception that all students are financially well-off with support from their parents. Many of the students that he interacts with at the pantry are working multiple jobs, barely able to afford necessities, and some are even sending money home to support their families.  
When the discussion was opened to the audience, the panelists received thoughtful questions ranging from funding and food donations to advocacy and community partnerships. 
An audience member asked about the organization’s funding and what kinds of community and civic support would help their operations. 
In addition to operational funding from United Way of Monroe County, Pierce explained to attendees that Community Kitchen receives most of its funding from the community, including local government. Some funding comes from state and federal support. But she said one of the programs that affects them most is food stamps. 
“That’s obviously not money that we’re getting, but when requirements for those change, when funding levels change, then we see our needs rise,” she said.  
Hoosier Hills Food Bank’s largest source of support is food donations, said Alonso. They also receive financial support from United Way and local, state, and federal government funding, as well as grants they apply for.  
“What is incredibly difficult for us is to find money to support our general operating needs – to keep the doors open,” he said, as much of their financial support is allocated to specific projects. 
Wake Up! with United Way aims to increase advocacy and community engagement, so information was available to help direct attendees who are interested in engaging with this issue further.  
“Advocacy can be defined as simply as just raising awareness about an issue,” said Efrat Feferman, United Way of Monroe County Executive Director, “but if you want to take it to the next step and want to share your thoughts on a topic with your elected officials, we hope that this empowers you to feel comfortable doing that.” 
Want to learn more about topics discussed related to food security? Check out these links to learn more in-depth info.

Hoosier Hills Food Bank Website >>

Community Kitchen Website >>

Crimson Cupboard Web Page >>

Community Engagement Resources >>

Information to Contact Your Lawmakers >>

Join us for the next Wake Up! with United Way for the topic "Creating a More Brain Injury-Friendly Community" with a panel discussion featuring Jean Capler, MSW, LCSW; Rebecca Eberle, clinical professor with IU Speech, Hearing, and Language Studies; and three individuals living with an acquired brain injury
Wake Up! with United Way is a collaborative project of United Way of Monroe County and IU’s Political and Civic Engagement Program, with thanks to The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce and the Bloomington Board of Realtors for series support.