In Melissa Rinehart's excellent article “A Gnawing Concern” (May 15), we learned in the past few months that Wellspring on Wheels, Wellspring's mobile food pantry, has experienced a 535% increase in demand. In a survey earlier this month of 5,000 Allen County residents, 44% reported that they could make it only one or two weeks without a paycheck, and 65% were concerned about finding and purchasing food. Certainly, this crisis has increased our awareness of how many of our neighbors are “just getting by.”
Food insecurity is not news; 2016 data show that 22% of Allen County households were at risk and classified as Asset Limited, Income Constrained & Employed (ALICE). A 2017 Feeding America report identified 49,000 people in Allen County (13% of our neighbors) as food-insecure and estimated a cost of $24 million to meet that need.
While it is heartening to see our community rally to meet the current crisis, the reality is that for every meal contributed locally, federal government programs provide six.
As a former bureaucrat, I am in awe of how quickly our government has responded to this crisis. The USDA Food and Nutrition Service announced recently that it has approved over 2,800 changes across its 15 nutrition assistance programs. These adaptations include allowing Indiana SNAP (food stamp) recipients (more than 308,000 households) to use benefits for online food purchases, and providing an automatic pandemic EBT benefit of $319.20 for each child who qualifies for subsidized school meals (over 600,000 students).
I am hopeful that this spirit of accommodation can be maintained to reduce barriers and increase benefit levels for our neighbors in need; however, it is not going to happen without some encouragement.
It is therefore necessary to advocate at the federal level, on behalf of families in crisis, for increased poverty and nutrition assistance programs. Bread for the World has been a strong advocate for national and international hunger relief for 38 years.
One advocacy strategy is their annual Offering of Letters, in which thousands of handwritten letters are delivered to legislators in Washington, D.C., each June. Traditionally, letter writing is a group activity during church fellowship and home gatherings; this year it will be virtual. This adaptation provides everyone the flexibility to write, email or call their elected officials from the comfort of their home.
I encourage you to join me in this effort. Please go to www.breadindiana.org for an Offering of Letters tool kit, which provides talking points on current legislation (Senate Bill 1918, the Hunger Free Summer for Kids Act, and international nutrition assistance) and contact information for your congressional delegation.
Once you have made your personal contact (by mail, email or phone), encourage others to join you. My goal is for 100 constituents from Allen County to contact Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun and Rep. Jim Banks by the end of May, in advance of the virtual Bread for the World Advocacy Summit on June 9. The statewide goal is 4,000 letters or contacts.
Call me at 260-740-7168 for additional information and to include your contacts in my tally. It is time for Bread to rise.
Betsy Kachmar, a Fort Wayne resident, is a volunteer for Bread for the World.