TERRE HAUTE —
One in four children in the Wabash Valley struggle with hunger every day.
One in six adults also wonder if they will have something to eat each day.
For the next week, 45 people in Terre Haute will participate in the United Way Hunger Challenge — limiting themselves to $4.18 per day of food — to experience how the average person receiving food assistance in Vigo County must limit themselves every day.
These Hunger Challenge participants are not among the “food insecure” people of the community. Some are educators, nurses, business people — even government officials. But the challenge is to live the life of a person facing hunger every day.
The feeling of hunger is different from food insecurity — the inability of people to obtain sufficient, nutritionally adequate and safe foods for their household.
More than 15 percent of all people in west central Indiana — and that includes 23 percent of children younger than 18 — are food insecure. That amounts to more than 13,400 children and more than 41,000 people total, according to current data from the Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank.
On Friday, the challenge participants ate a meal together at Ryves Hall, receiving the same tuna casserole, fruit cup, salad, glass of water and slice of cake that a person walking into the soup kitchen will receive.
“Four to five hours from now, we’re going to be hungry again,” said Catholic Charities agency director John Etling, explaining to the challenged that the simple meal they ate will seem like a feast once they begin the challenge of living on a total of $29.27 for the next week — from Sunday through Saturday.
In fact, last year’s challenge participants had more to spend on their week of food and drink — $32. But, 500 more people than last year are now enrolled in Vigo County’s food stamp — or SNAP — program.
The rules of the challenge are simple. Participants cannot accept food other than what they buy in their $29.27 weekly allotment. They should not eat at parties or accept free samples of foods if they come from someplace where a person on food stamps would not have access.
Some of this year’s participants are taking the challenge for a second time, and they shared their experiences with others.
“It’s very humbling to do this,” said Rick Burger of Duke Energy, recalling how he woke up due to hunger in the middle of the night during the challenge, and realized that other people experience that on a regular basis.
In his professional work, Burger said, he has seen low-income people faced with the hard choice of purchasing food, medicine or utilities.
Foodbank director Tom Kuhl said he has made food deliveries to homes where the “cupboards are bare,” and those people truly had no food in their pantry or refrigerator.
When he took the challenge last year, Kuhl said, he ended up with only peanut butter and crackers to eat on the final two days, and it was a struggle.
Lori Danielson, who is employed by Clabber Girl, brought her high school-age children to the challenge lunch. While 14-year-old Ali and 15-year-old Spencer will not be doing the challenge themselves, they both will be shopping with their mother and going over her food budget for the challenge.
Spencer said he knows some students at school who would be considered food insecure, but being hungry is not an issue that teenagers want to talk about to their friends.
Part of the reason for the challenge is also to get people talking about solutions for food insecurity in their communities. Some low-income children get through the weekends by receiving backpacks full of food to take home to feed themselves.
The Catholic Charities Foodbank distributes items to 86 member agencies in seven counties. The data for those counties may seem startling. By number, food insecurities is recorded as:
• 14.6 percent of the Clay County population, or 3,930 people including 1,520 children.
• 14.1 percent of the Greene County population, or 4,660 people including 1,690 children.
• 13.6 percent of the Knox County population, or 5,240 people including 1,750 children.
• 15.3 percent of the Parke County population, or 2,660 people including 870 children.
• 14.9 percent of the Sullivan County population, or 3,200 people including 930 children.
• 16.6 percent of the Vermillion County population, or 2,720 people including 970 children.
• 15.7 percent of the Vigo County population, or 18,730 people including 5,750 children.
On average, 16.2 percent of the state’s population is food insecure, while 24.5 percent of the state’s children are food insecure.
Those participating in the Hunger Challenge will get together the week after the challenge to share their experiences. Etling said he hopes participants will also share their experience of food insecurity with others, to help them understand why it is important for everyone to help support families who cannot feed themselves on a food stamps budget alone.
For more information about the Hunger Challenge, go online to www.uwwv.org. To learn more about helping to feed the hungry, go online to www.catholiccharities
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.