By Mary Kuhlman
With the spirit of the holiday season, food pantries and soup kitchens in Indiana see an abundance of donations to help the hungry. But it's a different story after the Christmas tree comes down. Julio Alonso, executive director and CEO with Hoosier Hills Food Bank, says in January and February the amount of food donated does not match the need.
"The idea of hunger and people in need and helping out neighbors is really prevalent during Thanksgiving and Christmas," says Alonso. "But the New Year comes around and we all sort of tend to get back to our busy lives and things are starting fresh, and there's just not that much emphasis on it, unfortunately."
Alonso says winter weather that makes it difficult for people to get out is another reason for the drop in donations. He encourages Hoosiers who want to help the hungry to do whatever works best for them whether it's a gift of food, financial support or volunteering their time at a food bank or pantry.
In Indiana, Alonso says, there's been a consistently high level of demand for food donations for several years. In 2013, changes to the SNAP program reduced benefits for many people in need. He says his organization was up 16 percent in food distributions by the end of the year.
"We distributed a total of just under 3.7 million pounds," Alonso says. "So far this year, we had eclipsed that by Thanksgiving, so we're heading for another record year. And unfortunately, that doesn't seem to show any sign of abating."
A recent study by Feeding Indiana's Hungry shows that one in six people in the state turn to food pantries and meal-service programs to keep themselves and their families from going hungry. Of the households served by Indiana's food banks and programs, 43 percent include a child under 18 and 25 percent include a person age 60 or older.