Help is available for Indiana students facing food insecurity

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The Food Bank of Northern Indiana's "Food 4 Kids" backpack program is providing food to more than 2,800 students this school year, up from nearly 2,300 in the 2019/2020 school year. (Adobe Stock)

This week, the holiday break is over for many Indiana students, and local food banks say their goal is to ensure kids have enough to eat this semester.

One in every seven Hoosier children faces hunger at home, according to the nonprofit Feeding America.

Emily Weikert Bryant – executive director of Feeding Indiana’s Hungry – said food banks across the state can help those kids and their families get what they need, on and off school grounds, this semester.

“Many of our members have pantries at schools, or do mobile pantries at school sites,” said Weikert Bryant, “working with those school communities to provide access to families, not just the child that attends the school, but the families of the children.”

Weikert Bryant said continuing pandemic-aid measures guarantee students get a healthy breakfast and lunch on campus, and food banks have other programs to fill the need for food off-campus.

She added that folks with incomes less than 185% of the federal poverty line – or about $49,000 a year for a family of four – can enroll children in free and reduced-price lunch programs. That also qualifies them for pandemic food-aid benefits.

Parents can call 211 to find local food assistance.

One option is a backpack program, which provides food for after school, weekends and holidays.

Marijo Martinec, executive director of the Food Bank of Northern Indiana, said her organization is feeding more than 2,800 kids across four counties through its backpack program this school year. She said school officials and social workers decide which students are eligible.

“The schools make sure that the families, if there’s multiple students in one family in various grades,” said Martinec, “that they all try to get in the program.”

Martinec said bullying can be a concern for students who participate in food-aid programs, so discretion is a critical component.

“Receiving that food discreetly really is to protect them,” said Martinec. “So that they don’t have to feel any shame for being in the situation that they’re in and needing that food assistance.”

She added, since students often share their backpack contents with family members, the Food Bank of Northern Indiana is piloting a new program to provide larger quantities of food.

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