TERRE HAUTE —
More and more, there appears to be less access to food for the poor.
Just days after the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its report “Household Food Security in the United States 2011,” a dozen people were lined up at the Bethany House. At 11:29 Sunday morning, they stood by the back steps waiting for the doors to open.
“We’re just waiting for them to feed us,” said a gray-haired man at the head of the line, who shook his head when asked his name.
According to the USDA report, 13.2 percent of Hoosiers were food insecure between 2009 and 2011, representing an upward trend of about 2 percent. Meanwhile, 5.4 percent of Hoosiers were categorized as having “very low food security,” having even less access to food than the food insecure group.
Officials loosely define the concept of food security as having dependable access to enough food for active, healthy living. Individuals facing food insecurity have difficulty at some points finding enough food due to lack of resources, and those suffering very low food insecurity reduce intake and disrupt normal eating patterns due to the lack of access.
Nationally, the 2011 survey showed an estimated 14.9 percent of households were food insecure, representing 17.9 million households. An estimated 6.8 million households were in the very low food security category.
Of those surveyed, 48 percent report they lost weight “because they did not have enough money for food.”
Twenty-seven percent reported that at least one adult in the household did not eat for at least one entire day during the period for lack of food.
By noon, the Bethany House dining room was full of recipients spanning all ages. Senior citizens sat next to men in their 30s, next to women in their 20s holding toddlers.
Gerry Neidhamer, 21, ate a plate of ribs, mashed potatoes, cornbread and ravioli with utensils wrapped in red, white and blue napkins. Living with his parents, he said he has no high school degree and is unemployed.
“Not currently [employed] right now. Off and on side jobs,” he said, adding he has a cousin in a labor union hoping to get him into the group.
Brandy Thompson works at the shelter and soup kitchen on Locust Street during the week, and was supervising volunteers there that morning. In August, Bethany House served 3,496 meals, according to her paperwork.
“Right now we’re up to 600-and-some-odd for this month already,” she said, explaining the numbers spike toward the end of the month as people’s food stamps and assistance funds run out. There are no income guidelines or identification requirements for eating at the Bethany House. “Anybody can come in.”
Nationally, 25.3 percent of households headed by a female with no spouse were categorized as food insecure, with 11.5 percent labeled very low food security, making that the highest group by household composition. In contrast, only 3.4 percent of married-couple families reported being of very low food security.
Of households identifying themselves as Hispanic, 17.9 percent were food insecure, topping that category, while 10.5 percent of African-American households were labeled very food low food security, the highest of that designation. Of white households, 4.6 percent were classified as having very low food security.
Geographically, 10 percent of the households in the West were designated food insecure, while 6.1 percent in the South were labeled very low food security. In the Midwest, 5.4 percent of households were classified as having very low food security. The Northeast was lowest in that category with 5.3 percent.
Inside the Light House Mission, William Wilson said the numbers of people eating there remain steady.
“We’re at 200 a day,” he said.
A veteran of the U.S. Army, Wilson said he’s on disability and lived at the Light House Mission about 10 years before leaving and then returning recently. As a resident there, he works in the kitchen between 2 and 6 p.m.
A line of women sat with their children outside the kitchen, waiting for lunch to be served. Meanwhile, retired Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce director Rod Henry moved crates about the serving line.
“It’s meaningful,” he said of his volunteer service, noting he helps out on Friday afternoons and Sunday after church.
Over the years, his volunteer service there has led to many friendships, and Henry said he enjoys offering smiles and getting some in return. Just being there helps, he said, laughing that his contribution is service, not necessarily cooking.
“I joke, I do hot dogs,” he said, pointing out lunch for the day was baked beans, macaroni and cheese, and hot dogs.
Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.