Pandemic fuels are adding to food insecurity in Indianapolis

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Editor’s Note: The pandemic set off social fault lines that influence violence, and Indianapolis is setting a new murder record almost every day. This story is part of a series that examines these fault lines with the historical struggle in mind, including a systemic lack of services and resources for low-income and black residents of Indianapolis.

Last spring, the Gleaners Food Bank in Indianapolis distributed nearly 8 million pounds of groceries – more than twice as much as usual.

During the summer, a Gleaners program served over £ 1.5 million. CARE’s mobile pantries supplied groceries to nearly 48,000 households, three times as many as in 2019. Chris Coleman found work driving through sales events for a local recruitment firm.

He knows that many people in Indianapolis are struggling with food insecurity. “Be able to help the people feed the hungry because there are many people out here,” Coleman said.

The original goal of the CARE program was to have public safety officers build relationships with residents in high crime areas and develop relationships with people in the community while meeting a basic need. To date, it has served more than 300,000 people.

“Do you know how we’re doing in Indianapolis?” Coleman said, “Nobody goes hungry in Indianapolis. Nobody.”

But it takes a lot to fill the gaps in the food system.

More than 200 pantries, distribution locations, or dining programs are set up in Marion County each week, and all of them reported an increase in hardship this year. Kate Howe, executive director of the Indy Hunger Network, said the increase was largely due to job losses during the pandemic.

“There have been a lot of people who have been unemployed and may have sought help for the first time or for the first time in a long time,” Howe said.

A new study measures how hunger increased in Marion County due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The number of extra meals needed to achieve food security is known as the food gap. In Indianapolis, that number almost doubled from 380,000 in February to 740,000 in June.
The timing of the study allows for a first look at the food gap since the outbreak of the pandemic. Howe said the gap widened, although food supplies – including increased government programs and community service – nearly doubled over the same period.

“But it just wasn’t enough because the demand grew so quickly,” Howe said, “and our great concern is that these programs will run out, many of them by the end of this year.”

In addition, nutritional needs usually grow in winter as many have to use money they would normally spend on groceries to meet supplies. Others also lose income in normal years due to a decline in seasonal employment. And with the pandemic, food insecurity in Indianapolis has risen from 20 to 28 percent.

With all of these factors in mind, the CARE program – usually a summer program – served people through the fall months at its three locations: Ivy Tech, John Marshall High School, and Marion County Election Board.

The social factors that contribute to why one person has access to healthy food and another are not complicated. The socio-economic rifts that people fall through are caused by years of social disinvestment affecting many historically black neighborhoods of Indianapolis. And while none of these social factors have a direct cause-and-effect relationship – anyone who is food unsafe is not at increased risk of violence – they are related.

How is food insecurity related to violence ?: One less stress

Debra Stowers has lived in the near northwest for six years. She said the pandemic created desperate situations for many across Indianapolis.

“The police are all over town on various murders and shootings, on multiple routes and multiple routes. I pray it gets better because we already have something here that is killing us, “said Stowers.” Why kill each other? “

When talking about the causes of violence, food insecurity is often part of the conversation. Statistically speaking, people with food insecurity are not more likely to be affected by violence, but people with a high risk of violence are statistically more likely to be affected by food insecurity.

Indianapolis witnessed a record number of murders.

Sarah Estell, director of communications at Gleaner, said providing food to impoverished neighborhoods is a valid way to address this surge.

“If you could take away something that caused people to commit a crime, you know they were in jail or with fines they couldn’t pay,” Estell said. “All these issues that came to the fore.”

When the CARE, Community Action Recovery program began in 2015, it was part of an effort by Troy Riggs, then Indianapolis Director of Public Security, to reduce violent crime by addressing its causes. One of his initiatives was to deliver groceries to a group of neighborhoods identified as hotspots for violent crime. Many are still hotspots today.

WFYI reported on the police initiative in a series of reports called Intersections.

For this 2015 series, Riggs spoke about why food distribution is important.

“In any area that has problems where the quality of life is deteriorating, and that’s really what we’re talking about, crime is an aftermath,” Riggs said. “If you look at this, family breakdown is one of the main problems in each of these areas. This leads to a lot of problems, a lack of education, a lack of coping skills and a lack of nutrition for people. “

Despite the city’s efforts, including its holistic public safety approach in 2015, Indianapolis witnessed record violence and murders. Real changes have not come to the same districts that are disproportionately affected by violence and face the challenges of the root cause.

Unai Migel Andres, an analyst at the Polis Center, said the lack of food exacerbates all other consequences of poverty, including violence.

“In my opinion, food is a basic need. It is a human right, although it is not treated as such in the US, ”Andres said.

Andres, who is originally from Spain, says the US is the only country that does not recognize this right among its people.

Andres in Indianapolis said the data clearly shows a link between food insecurity and public policy.

“Neighborhoods that are disinvested tend to have lower incomes, which means they have lower purchasing power, which translates into a less viable market for starting a grocery or other business.”

Transportation to grocery stores in food desert areas is also a longstanding problem in Indianapolis. According to IUPUI’s Savi data, 236,000 people live in transit food deserts.

Many also have barriers to connecting to free food or government support like SNAP, often due to systemic barriers, including transportation or a lack of internet.

Fortunately, Indianapolis-based Debra Stowers is given a Social Security disability. The 54-year-old retired cook lost both legs to Buerger’s disease, which causes clogged arteries related to tobacco use. Stowers is also receiving SNAP, but has visited the CARE program a few more times.

“Used a lot. Close and consistent, free of charge, ”says Stowers. “It’s a big help.”