Friday, June 20, 2008
Project E.A.T. 's goal is to be sure everyone eats everyday. Kokomo Urban Outreach with the help of churches and organizations are providing food to the food insecure all across Kokomo. Our focus is on childhood hunger. KUO disburses food in a variety of ways---weekend backpacks full of food to weekly meals. This blog is designed to provide hunger awareness and to be a resource of appropriate ways to respond to it.
The logo on this page was designed by some children we serve. I asked them to draw a picture of a city with the sun going down to remind us that no one should go to bed without eating.
All across Indiana hunger is quietly on the rise. Hunger is found in every city, town, and county in Indiana. Hunger hits children and senior citizens, hardest. Everyday people in our state and in your community go to bed hungry. It appears that local hunger is not being addressed in many churches. I have had opportunities to speak throughout the state and have learned that few in the church understand the causes, ramifications, and proper response to hunger. While I don't pretend to be an expert, I do see hunger everyday and hear first hand stories about present challenges, as I work with the under-resourced throughout Kokomo. Presently, we are experiencing a crisis in our community that is headed toward or has already arrived in yours.
In October 2007, the State of Indiana rolled-out a new program known as, "The Modernization of the Welfare System". In a 1.6 billion dollar agreement between the State and IBM, the Welfare System was partially privatized, with the new system placed in twelve central Indiana counties including my county--- Howard. In March of 2008, the state added 27 counties in southern and western Indiana, such as Clark, Floyd and Vigo. While we were at Conference, in May of 2008, 20 more counties came on-line: Allen, Adams, DeKalb, Huntington, Jay, Kosciusko, Noble, Steuben, Wells and Whitley in northeast Indiana and Daviess, Dubois, Gibson, Knox, Pike, Perry, Posey, Spencer, Warrick and Vanderburgh in southwest Indiana. Within a few weeks "The Region" will come on board followed by Indianapolis.
It has now been the nine months since the first counties were rolled out and from my experience it has been a difficult transition. There are no more face to face interviews to apply or reapply for welfare benefits which include: Food Stamps, Medicaid and TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families formally known as welfare cash). Applications for benefits are to be submitted by phone, on-line, or fax. The problem is that few under-resource families have access to phones, computers or fax machines. Many families in my neighborhood have lost their stamps for improperly filling out a form sometimes it is as simple as not putting in zip code or as big as not submitting proper records. When an application is rejected, a letter of denial is sent, families then must reapply from scratch with benefits taking up to 90 days to be restored. While many are successful in securing benefits, others with little education, mental issues, or other life uncertainties, find it difficult to maneuver through the system, resulting in benefit loss.
The State thought that most would apply on-line not by phone. A recent update on the roll-out shows that Hoosiers so far are favoring the call centers over the Internet, with 800,000 calls versus 22,000 online applications (Welfare shift debuts under fire By Niki Kelly, Published: May 22, 2008 The Journal Gazette, Ft. Wayne, IN). The volume of calls has overwhelmed the call centers causing great frustration for applicants. In Kokomo, we help our neighbors fax information, yet, most have to be faxed late at night or on the weekend as the call centers fax machines can't handle the load.
What are the ramifications of the "Modernized of the Welfare System"?
- Hunger is on the upswing, especially since school is out with few communities offering a summer lunch program.
- A great deal of pressure has been put on local food pantries trying to keep up with increased demand. The pantry at Kokomo Urban Outreach was providing food once a month to an average of 40 families. In May and June we served over 200 families. Every pantry in town is being taxed to its limits.
- The local economy has been affected, grocery stores derives a significant portion of their income from food stamps. According to one grocery manager, in Kokomo, people will soon be losing jobs.
- It has put stress on low-income families. Many families were barely getting by but without food stamps it has become a day to day worry of how to feed the children.
- The loss of Medicaid has made it hard for children to secure medicines. Many of the children we work with have moderate to severe mental disabilities, the lack of medicine caused several children not to be able to function at school.
Just this week emergency Food Stamps became available to flood victims in southern Indiana. It is a wonderful thing to offer flood victims emergency Food Stamps, it is my prayer that they will actually get them in a timely fashion.
Loss of TANF(cash benefits averaging about $200.00 per month) have caused evictions, sanitary issues (food stamps is only for food not soap, laundry soap, toothpaste, shampoo or toilet tissue with no cash to secure needed items families do without) and transportation problems(no money for gas, taxi, bus etc).
The whole scenario is putting a strain on families (domestic violence is on the rise); crime in our area is on the rise, as well as homelessness.
Once food stamps are secure the rising cost of food makes it very difficult for families to stretch food dollars. Lack of transportation, whether due to no car or no gas, keeps families from using their food stamp dollars, prudently. Not being able to go to larger groceries with the better prices, forces many to shop at neighborhood convenience stores.
According to the USDA website, the average Food Stamp benefit per person in the State of Indiana is $3.13 per day. A family of four would receive $12.52 daily. I wonder what would happen if every United Methodist took a week and spent $3.13 a day on food. Would it be possible to organize a "Food Stamp Challenge" and journal our experiences? Is it even possible to live on $3.13 per day? Maybe for an extra challenge we would have to secure our food without the benefit of transportation. Just a thought.
This email is far too long and I heard we are not to link to other sites. If you email me I will send you resources and ideas that will put your Church in a position to respond to hunger in your community. I will, also, send you links of recent local news articles dealing with the "Modernization of the Welfare System".
" I was hungry and you gave me something to eat...."
Note: While this sounds like I am against government "privatization" I am really not for or against anything. I just want everyone to eat and to become self-sufficient. I contacted my State Representative and he visited us on a Sunday night where we serving a meal to 183 people(we only seat about 100 in our fellowship hall). He gave me an 800 number to call to complain about the system, we made copies of it and passed it out to all who were having trouble. Every adult in the room asked for the number. I do think it is hard to take the "human" out of human services. JN
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
- Remodeled two restrooms
- Cleaned Kitchen including 2 refrigerators and defrosted a freezer
- Put away about 500 items of food in the food pantry
- Cleaned, primed and painted the food pantry room
- Put together about 100 craft projects for VBS
- Installed an Air conditioner in the Sanctuary
- Sorted a large amount of clothing
- Did exploratory surgery on a water fountain :)
- Donated 5 computer monitors
- Donated Several bags of groceries
- Left through volunteers about $150.00 in cash
- Brought a smile and some joy to about 25 children---- which is priceless