We Stand Together

‘We Stand Together’: John Elliott, Gleaners Food Bank

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Hoosiers have continued to show an unmatched ability to come together in times of trouble. You’ve seen it at protests and with the spirit of giving for those facing hardships due to the pandemic.

Families in poverty aren’t the only people you’ll find in a food line these days. Data shows 30-40% of people using these services now never needed them before the pandemic.

John Elliott with Gleaners Food Bank said the organization has been collaborating with other groups to determine and meet the needs. And groups from around the state have stepped up. But that’s to be expected from Hoosiers.

ELLIOT: As we’ve had opportunities to communicate and tell the story now about the need in the community around hunger and related topics, we’ve tried to weave in a bit of a reality perspective for the audience about who’s in the food line and who’s not. I’m not somebody that gets frustrated that easily. But certainly I remain a bit frustrated that people jump to the wrong conclusions about who’s in a hunger relief line and why they are there. There is a bit too much judgmental attitude sometimes about why they are there, and ‘Have they done something? Is it their fault?’ And I frankly don’t care about fault or why they are in line to some extent. I think our role is to feed them. Our role is to connect them to wraparound services through partners. And partnerships have been a great part of what happened this pandemic.

WINFREY: You mentioned something earlier, how the pandemic, or even in general, has shown a way of how if you go without food, it can have a snowball effect that creates other hardships or concerns. Tell me what you meant by that.

ELLIOT: No two factors are more closely connected than hunger in health. Hunger affects the top 10 chronic health conditions more than household income or many other factors. If you think about it, it does make sense. Whether somebody has diabetes and how severe that is has a lot to do with the food they eat. Or even the food they don’t eat because they don’t have it. And so the rate of diabetes and chronic heart disease and stroke and a variety of other issues is much higher in the food insecure population.

WINFREY: One of the things you mentioned is that you can’t tell who’s in the food line, particularly now, it can be some of everyone. But previously, were the largest populations of people utilizing those services in those so-called food deserts or lower income communities?

ELLIOT: There’s obviously a direct connection between the poverty rate in a county and the food insecurity rate in a county. Where going into the pandemic you had a food insecurity, right, of a little over 20% and you had a poverty rate of a little over 21%, so they are almost identical. This county was more susceptible, more vulnerable to the pandemic impact than other counties. And it’s no surprise to me that going into this pandemic, 35% of the meals we distributed across 21 counties were in Marion County. By the second week of the pandemic, we were over 60%.

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