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I recently sat in on a presentation from some representatives from the United Way of Central Indiana on the current economic environment in Hamilton County. It was fascinating – and disturbing. I learned the following:

  • The current recessionary environment has had a significant impact on the economic well-being of the residents of Hamilton County.  The unemployment rate appears to have reached a peak at 7.1% in July of last year.  The rate for September was 6.7%. The number of unemployed is still around 10,000.
  • Participation in school-based free and reduced price lunch programs has almost doubled in some districts and is at about 10% for the county as a whole. Eligibility guidelines for free and reduced lunches are based on 130% and 180% of the Federal poverty income, respectively. For a family of four this equates to $28,665 for free lunch and $40,793 for reduced price.
  • The number of participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly the Food Stamp Program) has increased significantly since 2007.  The basic income eligibility for the program is the same as that for the free school lunch assistance.
  • Representatives from schools and hospitals in the county reported substantial increases in “situational poverty,” poverty resulting from an incident or incidents in the lives of an individual or family. These individuals or families are facing poverty for the first time in their lives and lack knowledge of assistance options.
  • Food Stamp participation has increased substantially in Hamilton County in recent years.  The latest data indicates a 39% increase in the number of assisted families between April 2009 and April 2010.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that food pantries in Hamilton County are struggling to meet the need, with frequent appeals to congregations for donations.
  • For an increasing number of Hamilton County families, the inability to satisfy basic needs is the most significant stressor on the human services system.  The impact of the recession combined with increasing population has meant that larger numbers of families are in need of assistance. Simply put, more people are either unemployed or employed in jobs that do not pay enough to make ends meet.

I walked away from the UWCI’s personnel presentation convinced that gardening should be an integral component of the fight against hunger and poverty in this county. Providing families in need with whole, fresh foods frees up their limited incomes to spend on transportation, utilities and other necessary bills. Providing families in need with whole, fresh foods helps them to feel better physically and mentally, so that they can be better prepared for job interviews, child-rearing and homemaking. Providing families in need with whole, fresh foods helps us to connect very integrally with our brothers and sisters in need in our own backyards. Providing families in need with whole, fresh foods benefits our own families by giving us the opportunity to care for creation well, to serve the “least of these,” to refresh our spirits, and much more.

…so Plant a Row for the Hungry this year!

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25: 34-40