News From Terre Haute, Indiana

July 22, 2012

EDITORIAL: Drought’s effects will hit more than just the fields

Be aware of impact on those less fortunate


The Tribune-Star

---- — The only things growing fast in the drought of 2012 are the tentacles of its damage.

Wrath of the dry spell spreads far beyond crunchy lawns and withered gardens. Farmers see bleak prospects for their corn, soybean and wheat harvests. Federal agriculture officials touring Indiana farms last week concluded that 71 percent of the state’s corn crop is in poor to very poor condition from lack of rain and heat stress. The drought, the nation’s worst in 56 years, sent American corn and soybean prices to all-time highs this month, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Tom Vilsack, the U.S. agriculture secretary, predicted the increased food prices would continue through 2013.

Because the U.S. produces nearly half of the world’s corn and large amounts of the globe’s wheat and soybeans, the drought could trigger international food shortages, according to a United Press International report. The last world food crisis hit in 2007 and 2008 during the global recession. In that period, U.S. food banks had to cut back on distribution, and food donations dropped 9 percent, according to Feeding America.

As the Wabash Valley deals with the effects of the hot, dry summer, we all should remember the neediest among us. Many folks will face tighter budgets as high air-conditioner use increases electricity bills and trips to the supermarket become costlier. Others don’t have the luxury of even experiencing those frustrations. Some people in the latter situation need assistance to keep food on their family’s table.

That’s where food banks, such as Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank, step in. The agency stocks 87 food pantries in seven west-central Indiana counties — Clay, Greene, Knox, Parke, Sullivan, Vermillion and Vigo. During the past three months, the Catholic Charities Foodbank here has provided an average of 171,500 meals per month. Pantries are designed to fill gaps in a family’s resources, getting some through the week when food stamps are running low, Tom Kuhl, director of the Catholic Charities Foodbank, said.

One source of supplies for Catholic Charities is the generosity of Wabash Valley farmers, who contribute fresh produce. In the heart of the drought, those farmers are still coming through, said Kuhl, but the harsh weather has curtailed their available crops. The growers simply have less in their fields.

“What we’re getting is a half or maybe a third of what we would normally be getting at this time,” Kuhl said. “[The farmers] understand the need is still there, but as far as the quantity they’d like to donate, their yields are down.”

For those with ample means, there are ways to help.

Non-perishable food items can be dropped off at the food bank at 1356 Locust St. in Terre Haute. Cash donations also can be accepted at that same location, or contributions can be made online at catholiccharitiesterrehaute.org. Through its network with suppliers, Catholic Charities can stretch one donated dollar into five pounds of food, Kuhl emphasized.

With no significant rain forecast for the next couple weeks, the drought could intensify. It’s already stunningly bad. “It really is a crisis. I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this in my lifetime,” Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who is 63 years old, told the New York Times.

Let’s not allow the epic nature of this predicament to blind us from its impact on children of poverty, the poor, the elderly and the disabled.