People often generously contribute to food banks around the holidays. Yet according to Laura Palmer, a Purdue University Cooperative Extension Specialist in the Department of Foods and Nutrition, “People may not realize that individuals experience hunger year-round not just around the holidays”. The idea of people being hungry in this land of plenty amid an obesity epidemic certainly appears incongruous. However, according to national data collected annually by the U.S. Census Bureau, more than one in 10 households in the United States experience hunger or the risk of hunger. More than 35 million Americans lack access to food and some people in these households skip meals or eat too little - sometimes going without food for a day.
These surprising statistics were shared as part of the Hunger Awareness Day activities on June 5th this year. Emergency Food Assistance Programs all over the state of Indiana coordinated activities to communicate with the public that hunger is still a problem in the United States. This year’s celebration adopted the theme, "The Face of Hunger Will Surprise You" and was promoted by America's Second Harvest, the nation's largest food bank network. "This day serves as a platform for domestic hunger relief organizations to raise awareness about hunger in America” notes Palmer. "Hunger Awareness Day gave us the opportunity to coordinate our efforts in focusing the nation's attention on one of the most solvable problems facing every community in America."
Some program leaders in Indiana counties organized events for Hunger Awareness Day. Lynn Schocke, Family Nutrition Adviser with the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service in Madison County, modified the traditional Purdue tailgate. She and others set up a tailgate food giveaway in the parking lot at St. John's Lutheran Church in Anderson, Indiana. Schocke, who works with the federally funded Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, provides information to families of limited income about making healthy food choices within their income restrictions. Food demonstrations and cooking classes are offered at food pantries to provide healthy meal ideas. The demonstrations include the commodity foods that clients may select from the food pantries.
"People on limited incomes are doing the best they can, but sometimes their circumstances force them to choose between food and buying gas or paying the electric bill," Schocke says. "Often the less healthy foods are the inexpensive foods, but we provide information about making better food choices with a tight budget or by using resources from the food pantries."
The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, Indiana's Food for the Hungry Program, and the Family Nutrition Program work in tandem as part of the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service to provide education and resources to combat hunger and lack of food for high risk audiences year round. The interventions conducted as part of these programs have been shown to improve the diets of low resource audiences. Heather Eicher-Miller, a doctoral student in the Department of Foods and Nutrition, helped conduct a randomized controlled study among participants of the Family Nutrition Program. She found that those individuals receiving lessons delivered by Family Nutrition Advisers significantly improved their food security status compared to a control group that received delayed lessons.
The Expanded Food and Nutrition Program began in 1969 and the program is found in every state. In 2006, the Indiana program reached more than 7,400 people from 2,099 Hoosier families with young children. More than 14,975 sessions were taught to participants, and 91 percent reported they improved their nutritional habits.
The Family Nutrition Program is a nutrition education program that targets limited resource individuals and families in Indiana. Support for the program comes from the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service in partnership with Indiana Family & Social Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program offers educational programs focusing on nutrition and meal planning, food purchasing, preparation and safety, and resource management to food stamp eligible Indiana residents.
Indiana's Food for the Hungry Program is a partnership with The Emergency Food Assistance Program of Indiana within the Lieutenant Governor's office. The program provides practical application-based food safety and nutrition information to volunteers and staff who handle food in not-for-profit food assistance organizations, such as food pantries, soup kitchens, and congregate meal sites. For more information about Purdue Cooperative Extension programs contact Laura Palmer, MS, RD at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 765-496-2626.