Many of us on Thanksgiving Day will get together with family and friends to count our blessings and enjoy many different holiday foods. However, not every person or family in Morgan County can afford to put such a meal on their table.
In Morgan County, there were 2,780 food-insecure children in 2017 (most recent data available). Sixty-seven percent of these children came from families who were income-eligible for federal nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. That means 33% were not eligible for help, but still struggled to buy food for their kids.
The 2017 Feeding America Network’s Map the Meal Gap Study for Indiana reported 1 in 7 adults (887,070) and 1 in 6 children (273,380) struggled with hunger. Forty-seven percent of these households with children received SNAP benefits. Feeding America Network, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, implemented this study to identify and understand food insecurity at national, state and county levels so communities could develop strategies and solutions to reach more people.
Food insecurity is when a household can’t provide enough food for every member to live an active and healthy life. Regardless of why a family is struggling, local children are going without food and it’s affecting their education.
Vickie Hendricks, founder of Bulldog Blessings Pantry and BackSacks program in Monrovia, has seen firsthand the impact hunger has on a child’s ability to function in school. It’s one reason why she got involved.
“In 2015, I heard during a Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) meeting at my daughter’s elementary school about children who were going to the nurse’s office complaining of stomach aches. School staff reported these kids were coming to school hungry and wanted something to eat,” said Hendricks. “If they’re not eating, it hinders their ability to learn. Something in my heart told me to get involved.”
Vickie started talking with other food pantries to learn how to operate one and find resources for funding as well as volunteers. Challenged by the lack money to get a pantry started, she sought assistance from the Community Foundation of Morgan County (CFMC).
In 2016, CFMC awarded an Impact Grant of $7,000 to support Bulldog Blessings Pantry and BackSacks. This money helped Hendricks and her team purchase two refrigerators as well as place monthly orders through Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana. For the past two years, CFMC has continued to fund this hunger relief effort with $7,000 (2017) and $8,000 (2018) Impact Grants.
In November 2016, Vickie and volunteers organized and implemented the first of many BackSacks at Monrovia Elementary School. Approximately 30 students received a package of non-perishable food items on a Friday morning to ensure they had something to eat over the weekend. These BackSacks were prepared in advance and placed in students’ backpacks by teachers while children were out of the classroom. “We never want the kids to be embarrassed,” Hendricks said.
BackSacks are also available to middle and high school students. “Students at this age are concerned about being recognized for needing help, so they can ask a teacher or staff member to get food for them from the pantry. We don’t want anyone going hungry,” Hendricks added.
Bulldog Blessings Pantry was dedicated in memory of 2015 Monrovia High School graduate Meredith Knieper. In October 2015, Meredith died in a car accident. She was passionate about helping others, so her mom, Beth Ann Gore, connected with Vickie when Beth Ann heard about the food assistance need in the schools.
Hendricks is very thankful for everyone who has become involved, including her family, Kelli Kizzee (Project Kindness), Julie Dimmack (Monrovia High School), Debbie Snow, Dr. William Roberson, CFMC, Beth Ann Gore and many others.
That November was also the preliminary launch of the Bulldog Blessings Pantry at Monrovia High School, with approximately 10-15 families being served by Vickie, her family, and Monrovia school (elementary, middle, and high) teachers/staff/students.
Almost two years later, the number of students receiving BackSacks has doubled to 60 and the number of families served at the pantry has increased to 40. “This past month, we had 14 families visiting the pantry for the first time,” said Hendricks.
When asked about the families they serve at the pantry, Vickie said she is seeing a mixture of single parent families with only one spouse working, veterans, elderly, disabled individuals, and multi-generational families. “I’m seeing larger families where grandparents have children and grandchildren living with them,” she added.
From 2014-2016, the average cost of a meal per a food-insecure person in Morgan County increased by six cents from $2.79 to $2.85, according to Feeding America.
Food insecurity in Morgan County has multiple faces to it. There are individuals and families who have been food secure for months or years and one catastrophic event, such as death, health, divorce, or loss of job has them going to a food pantry for help. That assistance may be needed for a few months or longer depending on their circumstances. On the other side of the coin are individuals and families who refuse to work and want the “system” to take care of them.
Regardless of the situation, the Bulldog Blessings Pantry is open to everyone. “God tells us to love our neighbors and to help them carry their burdens,” Hendricks said.
The pantry is open every third Saturday of the month from 9 to 11 a.m. at Monrovia High School (enter through door #3).
Child hunger in Morgan County, Indiana and the U.S. will always be an issue because life happens. Whether it’s the loss of a job or a broken marriage or illness, many families will be challenged in providing food for their children. However, if we as a community will work together, we can find solutions that empower, rather than enable, more families to “get back on their feet.”