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In our last blog, we talked about the impact of COVID-19 on Wayne County. In today’s blog, we want to explore a little more in depth the effects of food insecurity on people and decisions they make.

Why are we talking about this?

Forward Wayne County, through coalition work, works hard to combat poverty levels and help our county with educational attainment, and increase median family income through better employment. But if food insecurity is what people are facing, then the decisions they make become increasingly centered around, “how do I feed myself and/or my family first?” Because that is an immediate need. And education and employment become secondary, or at the worst, irrelevant.

We are encouraging everyone to take a step back from why we think someone “isn’t doing what they should” during this COVID period and take time to pause and think, “what’s going on in their world?”

On its website, Feeding America states that prior to COVID, our nation was at its lowest in terms of food insecurity. Now, more than 54 million people, including 18 million children, may experience food insecurity because of COVID-19.

Nation is expected to see increase in food insecurity since COVID

And there are predictions from Feeding America that Wayne County will see this increase locally as well.

Wayne County is expected to see increase in food insecurity because of COVID

In our last blog, Tamara Brinkman, President of the United Way of Whitewater Valley explained, “What the pandemic did was exacerbate those existing issues and multiply the numbers. Those that were already in need – their need became greater.”

Caleb Smith, Board Chair of the Wayne County Food Council agrees.

“We have more than doubled the participation in the Richmond Farmer’s Market SNAP program. Part was the State EBT Pandemic program to feed kids through the summer and part is the increase in food insecurity. Last Summer we redeemed $12,923 through the SNAP program. So far this year we have redeemed $30,319 and we have a couple more Saturdays to go.”

Education and Food Insecurity

Food Insecurity effects educational attainment through: absenteeism, repeating grades, failing classes, lack of concentration, and dropping out of school all together. This list could go on and on.

There are many reports that show food insecurity can damage kids cognitively, emotionally, and physically. Essentially, they are already at an academic disadvantage by the time they enter a classroom. (Indiana Youth Institute) We can probably see this in our Wayne County elementary schools as well.

Studies also show that there is a correlation between low grades and poor mental and physical health among high school and college students due to lack of food. This has pushed high schools, colleges, and universities to open food pantries within their organizations to feed their students.

All five Wayne County public high schools have food pantries. I had no idea until I witnessed it one day as I was picking up a family member. I watched a student walk out of a local high school with two grocery bags full of food. My family member watched me watch that student and respectively and quietly said, “They went to the food pantry so they can have food for themselves and their siblings over the weekend.”

Gut punch. At what stage did our school systems and other support groups start doing more than feed our students academically? Hats off to them, because they aren’t complaining. They are making it happen.

Employment and Food Insecurity

Food insecurity isn’t just the lack of food, but also the affordability of food. Employment and your income plays a big part in that equation. The better your employment and wage, the less likely you are to be food insecure. But as we all know, that isn’t always the case.

You can be employed making $8 an hour and be food insecure. You can be employed making $20 an hour with a family and be food insecure. It’s all about if your wage is comparative to your immediate family size and its fixed expenses.

It’s why Forward Wayne County advocates for an increased livable hourly wage to be at or above the State standard. Indiana’s livable wage for a single person is $11.04. It’s $28.17 for a single person with two children.

A snapshot of livable wages for Indiana

Wayne County is making positive strides as we are now at an hourly average wage of $18.68 as compared to the State average of $19.84. This is an average, so the scale may be still lower for some of our residents.

If you’re curious about how a person lives off an hourly wage, I encourage you to check out NATCO Community Empowerment Center. You want to talk about an eye-opener.

As we mentioned before, food insecurity may force some to seek assistance first before seeking employment. This also might mean that someone puts off seeking employment for a long period of time so they can become food stable. Keep in mind, you can be unemployed and receiving SNAP benefits and still be food insecure.

These are just some of the reasons that Forward Wayne County advocates for increased educational attainment and better employment options. The more a person can move up the chain, the likelihood of being food insecure decreases.

But if you need help, don’t be afraid to seek it out.

Linda White

Linda White, Director of Gateway Hunger Relief Center, says, “We are encouraging working and non-working families to come here first, then head to the store. We can provide meat, milk, cheese, and some produce. Let us help you supplement your groceries and stretch your dollars. Our hours are 9am to Noon on Tuesdays and 3pm to 6pm on Fridays.”

As a County, what can we do?

Donate to one or all of the high school food pantries.

Donate to the different food banks we have throughout the county. As the holidays approach, they would appreciate your support.

Visit the Wayne County Food council web site and see how you can help.

Get involved with a support agency and see how you can help.

Ask a friend if they need help. We can’t be everything to everybody, but we can be a help to somebody.

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