Serving the Hungry - Spring 2015 Newsletter

Map the Meal Gap Study Uncovers West Central Indiana Food Insecurity Rates

Nation-wide Research Reveals Poverty to be Most Impactful to Consistent Food Access

Boy with foodThe annual Map the Meal Gap results show that food insecurity continues to remain high in west central Indiana.

According to the most recent data, 16.3% of people in the area served by Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank are food insecure, which includes 13,970 children. Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank provides emergency assistance to individuals in Clay, Greene, Knox, Parke, Sullivan, Vermillion and Vigo counties in west central Indiana.

Indiana, with 15.4% of the population estimated to be food insecure, falls slightly below the national food insecurity level of 15.8%.

Map the Meal Gap is a detailed analysis of food insecurity done by Feeding America and the only study available that provides county–level estimates of food insecurity in the United States. The USDA defines food insecurity as a “socioeconomic condition of limited or uncertain access to enough food to support a
healthy life.”

“Studies like Map the Meal Gap allow Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank to continue to evaluate and adjust to the need in our area,” said John C. Etling, Agency Director of Catholic Charities in Terre Haute.

“The research data includes weekly food-budget shortfalls, demographics and poverty levels which help us define the social issues plaguing our area and work together as a community to find a solution.”

The information is provided in an interactive map that allows viewers to find out how widespread hunger is in their community. The map can be found at

Other local key findings:

  • Within the seven counties served by Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank, child food insecurity rates range from a low of 21.2% in Knox County to a high of 26.3% in Vigo County.
  • Overall food insecurity rates for the service area range from 14% in Parke County to 18.1% in Vigo County.
  • More than 42,580 people within the Foodbank service area are food insecure.

Research for the study was generously supported by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, ConAgra Foods Foundation and Nielsen.

The Map the Meal Gap analysis was developed by Dr. Craig Gundersen for Feeding America. Food-insecurity rates are based on a state-level model that allows for the population in need of food at the county and congressional district level. Additionally, Feeding America worked in collaboration with Nielsen to arrive at estimates for food-cost variation by county. Results were reviewed by the Feeding America Technical Advisory Group in order to ensure accuracy and promote transparency.

A summary of the findings, an interactive map of the United States, and the full report are available at

A Word from the Agency Director

Dear Friends,

Over the last four years we have told you about some important research titled Map the Meal Gap which highlights the tragedy of hunger on a national, state and local level. This important research helps us better understand which segments of our population may be experiencing a hunger crisis and who is at risk. It is also important because it quantifies the problem of food insecurity and allows us to measure our efforts and thereby our results.

To date, we have accomplished so much. Unfortunately, there is still so much yet to be done. It is increasingly evident that we alone cannot solve this problem. It takes all of us working together to impact hunger and to make such a systemic change in the way we approach and solve the need for basic nutrition. I would like to believe by now we know the importance nutrition has in our daily lives.

When it comes to the subject of hunger, the sad reality for so many young and old alike is that a reliable source of food on a daily basis is sometimes not available to them. As much as we try to reach out and provide help we too fall short, but make no mistake, we will not stop trying to feed the hungry!

In this newsletter you will read about Rebecca Lewis and what her family goes through on an almost-daily basis to make ends meet. Their story may not be unique, but it is compelling to understand what any of us are willing to do in an effort to survive. I wonder what I would do if I were in a similar situation. After you’ve had time to read this article and think about it, what would you do?

God bless you,

John C. Etling

National Association of Letter Carriers Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive

Stamp Out Hunger logoSaturday, May 9th

Fill a bag with non-perishable food and leave it by your mailbox by 9am. Your letter carrier and Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank will make sure it gets to people in need in our communities.

For more information, please call (812)235-3424.

Food Insecurity and Poverty: What’s the Difference?

Map the Meal Gap logoFood Insecurity refers to the USDA’s measurement of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members; limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate food. Food insecure children are those children living in households experiencing food insecurity.

Poverty refers to a lack of economic resources. The Census Bureau establishes a set of poverty thresholds annually (varying by family size), based on the Consumer Price Index and determines poverty rates through several major household surveys and programs.

Although related, food insecurity and poverty are not the same. We know that nationally 26 percent of food-insecure individuals live above 185 percent of the federal poverty line (Household Food Security in the United States in 2013). Dr. Craig Gundersen, a member of Feeding America’s Technical Advisory Group and lead researcher for the Map the Meal Gap study, notes that poverty is only one of many factors associated with food insecurity. In fact, higher unemployment, lower household assets and certain demographic characteristics also lead to a
lack of access to adequate, nutritious food.

Measuring need based on poverty alone provides an incomplete illustration of the need for food within our communities. Map the Meal Gap addresses some of these information gaps by recognizing food insecurity as the most precise measure of hunger available at the local level. More accurate, local assessments of need assists in strategic planning for Feeding America and our network partners to continue the journey of ending hunger through a quantifiable and data-driven approach.

What are the implications of childhood food insecurity?

BoyAlthough food insecurity is harmful to any individual, food insecurity is particularly devastating among children due to their increased vulnerability and the potential for long-term consequences. Several studies have demonstrated that food insecurity impacts cognitive development among young children and is linked to poorer school performance. Other data shows the health consequences of food insecurity among children, including increased illness and higher associated health costs.

The structural foundation for cognitive functioning is laid in early childhood, creating the underlying circuitry on which more complex processes are built. This foundation can be greatly affected by food insecurity. Inadequate nutrition can permanently alter a child’s brain architecture and stunt their intellectual capacity, affecting the child’s learning, social interaction, and productivity. Children who do not receive what they need for strong, healthy brain development during early childhood may never recover their lost potential for cognitive growth and eventual contributions to society.*

*National Scientific Council on the Developing Child

What does hunger look like?

FamilyIf you want to know what hunger looks like, look through the eyes of Rebecca Lewis. The 32-year-old Terre Haute native lives with her husband and four young children in a simple, sparsely furnished row house. The kitchen is worn but very clean. “Roaches like water,” Lewis says matter-of-factly as she wipes the counter. She keeps dry-goods sealed in plastic containers. Cereal is stored on top of the refrigerator, in cereal-size plastic bins. “The mice eat through cardboard boxes,” she explains as she reaches for a loaf of white bread. “We’re out of whole-grain,” she says pointing to the bright orange two-for-one price sticker.

For Rebecca, feeding her family properly is not just a choice; it is arguably a strategic obsession. She knows precisely when items get marked-down for clearance. “The manager’s specials go first if you’re not there by 9:00 in the morning.” She cuts coupons faithfully, buys in bulk and makes her own dinner from the food left on her children’s plates, something she and her husband Ronnie call “Kid Surfing.” Oatmeal, eggs and rice are staples she attempts to keep when the other food runs out.

In a country where grocery store shelves are overflowing, Rebecca is among some 50 million Americans struggling to put enough food on the table. “A lot of people say, ‘Oh she works two jobs, she must have it good.’ No, I don’t!” she says shaking her head.

The technical term for hunger is “food insecurity” and since the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) began tracking in the mid-1990s, it has now reached an all-time high.

“When someone is food insecure, it’s the anxiety of not being able to afford enough food. You may have enough for the day, but you’re worried about tomorrow or even next week,” explains John C. Etling, Catholic Charities agency director.

“There’s an implicit anxiety, depression and worry,” says John. Clara Smith, an almost waif-like mom with spiky blond hair, says she gets $400 a month in food stamps. Clara snapped a striking photo showing a handful of coins, most of them pennies – all Clara had left at the end of the month. “That was all I had, and still had so many things that needed to be done with that change. It’s just overbearing. It’s just hard to handle.” Clara says she first feeds her two sons, and then eats what’s left over. “I feel like if we have food, if I eat a snack, for instance, then I’m taking it away from my kids.”

Even families receiving the maximum amount of food stamps still need about $206 more every month to buy the minimum amount of food as defined by the USDA.

Jeanne Grayson, 27, is another mother who several years ago had a newborn and no money to eat. Out of desperation, she says she took a pizza menu and stared at the pictures, reading the descriptions until the hunger pangs went away.

“I never thought that hunger could be as serious as it is. I never thought that I would be affected. For a long time, I felt food was a privilege…no one should feel that way,” says Jeanne who wants to go to college someday and work in the criminal justice system, “If I can change it now, when my daughter gets older she might not have to go through this.”

Need Help Finding Food?

If you need help finding food or know someone who does, call the National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479). The Hunger Hotline is available Monday – Friday from 9am – 6pm. All calls are free and confidential. Help someone you know receive the nutrition they need to remain healthy and productive.

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