By Mary Kuhlman
Hunger continues to plague Indiana, according to a new study breaking down food insecurity data by county.
"Map the Meal Gap 2014," released by Feeding Indiana's Hungry, found that more than 1 million people, including nearly 346,000 children, don't know when or from where their next meal will come. Emily Weikert Bryant, the group's executive director, said bringing the numbers down to the local level shows people exactly how widespread hunger is in their community.
"It's going to be someone that you know from church or someone that your child goes to school with or someone that lives in your neighborhood, and you can't tell by looking at them," she said. "But if you look at the numbers, you know that you're going to know someone that has this difficulty."
Bryant said the research is important because it helps hunger-assistance organizations know where to devote their time and attention, as well as pinpointing underlying social issues in the state that need solutions. According to the data, food insecurity in Indiana averages 15 percent, with rates as high as 18 percent in Fayette County.
Bryant said food-insecurity numbers have remained steady the past few years, with counties with high poverty and higher unemployment ranking higher. However, she added, there are people at risk for hunger in every area.
"Even in places that have significantly lower food insecurity or lower rates of hunger - like Hamilton County or Dubois County, or other places that are low - we're still talking about a number of individuals who are having difficulties," she said.
According to the data, 54 percent of food-insecure Hoosiers probably are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other federal aid. Bryant said that leaves many others going without.
"There is a good number of folks who aren't eligible for any sort of federal nutrition programs," she said. "In those instances, they're either making a lot of very difficult choices for their family and not seeking help, or they're seeking help just from charitable sector because that's where they're able to get it."