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Indiana Food Insecurity Has Doubled During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Hoosier Hills Food Bank

(Adam Pinsker, WFIU/WTIU News)

The pandemic led to one of the sharpest economic downturns in U.S. history. As COVID crept across the country and employees were laid off, increasing numbers of Hoosiers became unsure where their next meal would come from. Record numbers turned to food banks.

One of those is Pantry 279 in Ellettsville.

“Right before COVID started we were at about 3,000 to 3,500 people depending on the month, per month,” said Cindy Chavez, the pantry’s director. “COVID happened in March [and] we went up to about 5,000. By December we were at 8,000.”

If you’re heading west on State Road 46 during one of the distribution days, it’s hard to miss – often, the pantry is so busy that cars waiting for food spill out onto the highway.

Chavez says after March, almost half of people making the trip to Ellettsville had never been to a food pantry before. By early September, the pantry had already surpassed its 2019 numbers.

“They're upset. They're scared. They're worried, people that are coming here, ‘Will we be able to get enough food? Will we still have a house? Will we have electricity for heating and cooling?’”

Almost one million Hoosiers were food insecure before 2020, about 15 percent of the state’s population. School closures cut off a vital food source for many families, compounded by job losses and the unknown risks of going to the grocery store.

FROM NOVEMBER 2020: Food Pantry Demand Unabating Heading Into Busiest Time Of Year

“The need in Indiana has roughly doubled,” said John Elliott, president and CEO of Gleaners Food Bank in Indianapolis. “So we've seen a disproportionate impact, and I think you can attribute some of that to the percentage of jobs we had in affected industries.”

The pandemic also created problems for food banks. Shutdowns, confusion and uncertainty led to the biggest disruption of the food supply chain since World War II. Many banks and pantries had to figure out how to distribute food safely while dealing with a new, airborne virus.

Plus, the pandemic cut the overall supply of volunteers. The extended hours and increased stress took their toll on Pantry 279’s already limited volunteer staff.

FROM SEPTEMBER 2020: COVID-19 Pandemic Puts Families, Food Banks On the Brink

“I have tendinitis now,” Chavez said. “But, I mean, my health is taken the same toll as all their health – James dislocated his shoulder, Melanie messed up her back, Jeanie had a heart attack.”

Gov. Holcomb activated the National Guard for a time to help get food to hungry Hoosiers. In many places, surrounding communities stepped up to assist with the increased need, with food, money or time. But as winter turns to spring and vaccine rollout increases, donations have begun to slow, though demand continues to stay high.

“I don't know how many years the recovery will be for the neighbors that were feeding,” Elliott said. “But I do know it'll be a multiyear recovery and far longer than the medical recovery.”

For the latest news and resources about COVID-19, bookmark our Coronavirus In Indiana page here.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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