Battling Hunger in Indiana

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Jennifer Lundy collects food for her mother and her family. Lundy is a former volunteer at the Food Bank of Northern Indiana. (Photo/Caelin Miltko)

By Caelin Miltko and Dakota Connell-Ledwon

Jennifer Lundy, a South Bend resident, rolled her cart up to the counter at the Food Bank of Northern Indiana. The cart was filled to the brim with produce and non-perishables to be taken home to her three daughters, her niece and nephew and her mother.

Her mother had just had shoulder surgery and was unable to work. Lundy said that getting from the local food bank helps her mother out a great deal.

“I watched a lot of people come through here,” said Lundy, who used to volunteer at the food bank, “and you don’t realize the demand for these places.”

In Indiana, the average food insecurity rate between 2013 and 2015 was 14.84 percent, according the United States Department of Agriculture. This was more than a full percentage point higher than the national average in the same time period. (See interactive map here

Households ranked as having low or very low food security, as defined by the USDA, were included in those numbers. Across Indiana counties, the food insecurity rate varies widely. According to Feeding America, in 2014, the lowest county food insecurity rate in Indiana was 9.4 percent in Hamilton County, just north of Indianapolis. The highest was 19.4 percent in Marion County, where Indianapolis is located.

St. Joseph County, where the Food Bank of Northern Indiana is located, had a food insecurity rate of 16 percent.

“It’s a major healthcare crisis. 42 million Americans are food insecure,” said Dr. Craig Gundersen, a professor who studies food insecurity at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “That’s a lot of people that are food insecure. In and of itself that’s a serious problem. The other thing about is that there are many negative health outcomes associated with food insecurity and also that there’s higher healthcare costs associated with it.” 

In Indiana, the food insecurity rate increased slightly in the early 2000s, spiked in 2008 and continued to rise slightly through 2015. According to the US Census Bureau, the average food insecurity rate in Indiana from 2010 to 2012 was 13.5 percent. The increase reflects a national trend. (See chart below)

Shane Turner, a South Bend resident, recently began volunteering at the food bank. He was exposed to the facility by his girlfriend, who used to work there. Turner decided he wanted to use his time to help make a difference in his community.

“It’s just an awesome place,” he said. “It helps out the community, really makes it a happier community.”


Shane Turner helps Lundy ‘check out’ after she’s chosen her food. (Photo/Caelin Miltko)

The pantry area where clients pick out their items is just a small part of the facility–a large storage area, complete with freezers and huge bins for sorting goods, extends beyond the pantry. The food bank currently has eight volunteers and two full-time staff, and the volunteers logged almost 50,000 hours last year in order to serve thousands of clients, according to Jaime Owen, an agency relations manager.

“Most people don’t go to a food pantry just once,” she said. “We have 25,000 visitors a week in our network.”

Turner said he hopes to be hired as a full-time staff and become more involved with the food bank.

“I just wanted to come here and do something,” he said. His current duties involve packing food, clearing freezers and loading and unloading deliveries.


The storeroom at the Food Bank of Northern Indiana. Food here is waiting to be distributed to member agencies. (Photo/Caelin Miltko)

Food insecurity is only one statistical way of measuring hunger in a given area. The USDA defines low food security as “reports of reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet. Little or no indication of reduced food intake.” Very low food security is when there are “reports of multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.”

Gundersen said SNAP is “far and away the best way to address food insecurity. First, it would be great if we could get more people onto the program, either by making sure that those who are eligible participate and also by expanding eligibility criteria higher in the income spectrum, so more people would be eligible for the program. And another thing that would be great is to increase benefit levels.”

In Indiana, according to the USDA, 73 percent of eligible participants used SNAP in 2010. In 2014, 13.5 percent of Indiana’s population participated in SNAP and the number of participants increased by 2.53 percent from 2009 to 2014.

Another way of tracking hunger is through the concept of “food deserts,” which examines access to food by comparing the locations of the closest grocery stores, the income levels of the inhabitants and whether people have access to a vehicle. (See interactive map here)

In 2010, 33.77 percent of individuals in St. Joseph County had ‘low access’ to food, though only 9.17 percent were low income and had low access to food. Only 1.54 percent of households had no vehicle and low access to grocery stores.

“Whenever I think about food deserts, usually it’s not a big issue, but on an individual level it could be,” Gundersen said.

Owen said, “Most people are surprised by how great the need is. There is a stereotype of unwed mothers with 75 children and no education, but about half of our clients are under 18 or over the age of 60. That’s sad. No one should have to go hungry.”

The Food Bank of Northern Indiana is a member agency of Feeding Indiana’s Hungry, and it works with about 200-member agencies–more than half of which are food pantries. The others are soup kitchens, shelters and other food services for low-income people.

Owen said the Food Bank of Northern Indiana encourages all of their pantries to be client choice, meaning they mimic grocery stores in their set up. Unlike the traditional food pantry, which prepacks boxes for clients, at a client choice pantry, users are given a set number of each type of item that they may take (carbs, veggies, hygiene products, meat, etc.) based on the number of people in their household. Then they use a shopping cart to collect their food and “check out” with a volunteer.

“Some of the stories are just tragic,” Owen said. “There are so many senior citizens who for some reason are now raising their grandchildren, or who have had something happen to other family members.”

Aside from their home pantry in St. Joseph County, the Food Bank of Northern Indiana works with several counties in the area with several different programs, including a “Food for Kids” backpack program and a mobile pantry, which travels to rural Stark County once a month.

“If we knew the answer [to solving food insecurity], we wouldn’t need food banks and food pantries,” Owen said.

“America’s Friendliest Hometown” Through the Years

Just 60 miles northwest of Orlando, Florida, lies a retirement mega-community.

The Villages is marketed as an “active adult community,” allowing retirees to maintain a physical and social lifestyle that caters to their needs as they enter old age.

Most residents get around the Manhattan-sized development exclusively in golf carts.

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Golf cart bridge over U.S. 27 (Photo: Ebyabe via Wikipedia)

In March 2014, the Census Bureau named The Villages the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the U.S.

Developer H. Gary Morse switched The Villages from mobile homes to a permanent housing development in the 1980s. He appealed to retirees from northern states by offering “free golf for the rest of your life” and the comfort of a community without children. From there, construction took off and the community expanded rapidly as new retirees clamored to move in.

The Villages is now home to over 100,000 retirees over the age of 55.

A Google Timelapse illustrates the drastic change in the area, from mainly farmland to a sprawling retiree community complete with active town squares, over 2,500 social clubs and almost 50 golf courses.

Butler Basketball Coach Wins Coach of the Year Award awarded Holtmann this year’s John McLendon Award, honoring him as college basketball’s coach of the year. Holtmann has been coaching Butler since the 2014-15 season.

Butler made it to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2011 this year.

Click here to view the full chart.

In the past decade, Butler has had three different coaches and competed in three different conferences.  Under Chris Holtmann, the team’s strength of schedule and relative win-loss percentages have gone up.

Click here to view the full chart.





Map Visualization: America’s 10 Cities Dealing with a Drinking Problem

Men’s Health magazine used data from a Centers for Disease Control study on alcohol use to rank U.S. cities by their “drunkenness.” Using an unscientific method, the magazine gave cities rankings based on liver disease, DUI arrests, etc.

Fresno, Cali. topped the list, followed closely by Reno, Nev. and Billings, Mont. Most of the cities on the list are concentrated in the Southwest.

See the map here.

Popularity of South Bend Cubs Continues to Rise

With the close of the 2016 baseball season, the South Bend Cubs broke their regular season attendance record for the third year in a row.

The team’s success has been attributed to a change in ownership in 2011, $7 million spent on renovations to Four Winds Field and the name and affiliation switch.

The team, previously called the Silver Hawks and affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks, became an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs in 2014.

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Interactive chart

Will Obama Stay Relevant?

After eight years in the White House, former President Barack Obama has left the building.

But he’s not finished yet.

While he told Barbara Walters in 2013 that he was done running for office, Obama plans to tackle many of the issues he battled with as leader of the country, such as immigration and gun control.

But will the former president retain his purported ability to speak to and for the people?

Google Trends says maybe.

A comparison of Google searches for President Donald Trump and Barack Obama shows a stark difference at the time of the 2012 and 2016 elections.

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Searches for Obama did peak around the time of the 2012 election, but those numbers are nowhere near the number of searches for Donald Trump before and during the 2016 election. In fact, searches for Trump were more numerous in the months leading up to November 2016 in comparison to searches for Obama in 2012, which picked up much closer to the election.

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In the past 90 days, searches for Obama have remained higher than during the years of his presidency. While his numbers are far lower than Trump’s, they peak at the same time. This data seems to show that people care what our former president has to say about our current president’s recent actions. In this way, Obama may continue to be a public voice.