Need for food grows in Terre Haute area

Tribune-Star/Joseph C. GarzaFighting food insecurity: Allison Finzel of Purdue Extension loads food into the trunk of a car during an emergency distribution of food on Thursday by Terre Haute Catholic Charities near Union Hospital.

When Lexus Elkins got off work Thursday morning, she drove a couple blocks away to an emergency distribution of packaged foods in a Union Health parking lot.

She has taken a lot of time off work recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic, not wanting to expose her small children to the coronavirus, and that has put a financial strain on her family.

Her boss at Union Health, knowing her situation, sent her to the drive-through food pantry at Eighth Street and Lafayette Avenue, she said. It was her first time accepting food that way, but the boxes of food, milk and other items will help feed her family.

Elkins said her mother has also taken a lot of time off work due to having other children at home and wanting to keep her family safe.

Families like Elkins’ are the types of households targeted by the Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank emergency distribution Thursday morning.

Need for food grows in Terre Haute area

Tribune-Star/Joseph C. GarzaPrepared to reach out: Volunteer Nathan De la Cruz carries food to a vehicle waiting in a parking lot off of Lafayette Avenue during an emergency food distribution on Thursday by Terre Haute Catholic Charities.

“Based on the surveying we are doing, we know there are a lot of people accessing a food pantry for the first time ever, any type of food assistance program for the first time,” said John Etling, director for Catholic Charities in Terre Haute.

Ninety minutes into the two-hour distribution, about 200 families had been served by pantry staff and volunteers who loaded items into vehicles.

“We still have a number of folks who are struggling,” Etling said. “One of the things [is] this part of the city allows for is a densely populated area where maybe we can catch people coming from the hospital or getting off work.”

The food bank distributes items at its location at 14th and Locust, but Thursday morning’s distribution was aimed at folks who don’t visit the Saturday food distribution.

“We think there is still a lot of apprehension by people,” Etling said of people accepting the assistance. “We just want to raise the attention and get people access to the food.”

Pantry staffer Pam Otte was checking in people as they drove up, asking about their households and their food insecurity.

“They are telling a lot of stories,” Otte said. “Many said they are not getting unemployment. Another talked about an apartment complex with a lot of senior citizens living there. We are seeing a lot of first-timers.”

During its monthly bread and produce distribution, the foodbank pantry provided food to 330 households, which was more than double the number usually served. On Thursday, Etling said the pantry was prepared to reach 300 households.

Research available through Feeding America, the national food bank network, indicates that food insecurity as a result of COVID-19, could reach as high as 20 percent in west central Indiana. That means more than 52,000 individuals lack access to enough nutritious food to lead a healthy active lifestyle – an increase of 36 percent from the data prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For a calendar of food distributions at area pantries and soup kitchens, visit www.ccthin.org and click the link for Emergency Food Assistance.

Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or at lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa.

Lisa Trigg has been a reporter at the Tribune-Star since 2009. With more than 30 years of newspaper experience, she now covers general news with a focus on crime and courts.

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