The number startles.
Emily Weikert Bryant, executive director of Feeding Indiana’s Hungry, tells me 279,000 Hoosier children struggle to be fed during these coming months.
Bryant and I, along with the Indiana Department of Education’s Adam Barker and Tina Skinner, talk over the air about summer food insecurity, particularly among children.
The end of a school year can mean many things for kids – a chance to break the routine, the opportunity to spend more time outside, an opening to work, spend time with friends or travel with family.
But, for an alarming slice of Indiana’s children, the end of school also means that it’s time to go hungry. The meals they receive at school stop when classes do. For too many Hoosier children, that can mean going 10 or 11 weeks without knowing when the next nutritious meal will come or where it will come from.
Bryant, Skinner and Barker say the best number we have indicates that nearly 18 percent of the state’s population can be defined as food insecure, but figure probably is low. There’s a stigma attached to being hungry one’s self – and an even greater one for having hungry children.
Many people who need food are too embarrassed to ask.
There are resources available for hungry people, hungry families and hungry children, Barker, Bryant and Skinner tell me.
They describe herculean efforts to deliver meals at parks, at schools, at drop-offs and at many other sites. They deliver meals in paper bags and in backpacks. They feed people at community get-togethers as part of a widespread effort to end the embarrassment and erase the stigma of hunger – if everyone is eating at the community meal, there’s no reason for shame.
The portrait that emerges from their descriptions is of a small army of Hoosiers struggling to solve a big problem.
They make a dent.
But not much more than a dent.
All this work and all these meals reach only about 16 percent of the Hoosiers who are food insecure – just under 45,000 children of the 279,000.
The rest continue to go hungry.
Barker and Skinner, a nutrition specialist, talk about the costs of allowing children to go hungry. Study after study has demonstrated that students who are hungry or ill-nourished don’t learn as quickly or as well. They present more discipline problems. And they are far less likely to succeed in work and in life.
Put another way, children who aren’t fed decent meals will have a hard time leading satisfying lives and stand a much greater chance of causing problems for society at large.
That’s the big picture.
The smaller one is more intimate, more painful.
A memory surfaces as Barker and Skinner talk. Years ago, I volunteered at an inner-city elementary school in Indianapolis. More than 95 percent of the students in the school were deemed at-risk and were on the free and subsidized breakfast and lunch program.
I was at the school the morning the kids came back from Thanksgiving break. I was shocked at the way many of them crowded into the cafeteria and the near desperation with which they ate their food.
One teacher told me, “A lot of them probably haven’t had much to eat over break.”
Over Thanksgiving weekend.
The memory makes my jaw tighten as Barker, Bryant, Skinner and I talk.
No child should have to live like that.
No child should go hungry.
But, over these coming summer months, 234,000 Hoosier children will.
Nearly a quarter of a million children in our state will go hungry.
They will go through the day hungry.
And they will go to bed hungry.
Day after day, week after week, month after month.
Here in Indiana.
Here in America.
Here in the heart of the world’s breadbasket.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.