Nearly one in five Hoosier children doesn't have regular access to healthy food.
At Richmond Community Schools in Wayne County, enough students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches that the entire school gets two free meals every school day. For many students, this means a day off school is a day without breakfast and lunch.
"When we have snow delays or no school, it breaks my heart to think of the kids who don’t get to eat that day," said Bridget Hazelbaker, communication coordinator for Richland Community Schools.
Hazelbaker and other community stakeholders and nonprofit leaders met Tuesday afternoon at Reid Health to discuss children and food insecurity in Wayne County. The event was sponsored by Side Effects Public Media and the United Way of Whitewater Valley.
The United States Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as lack of access to enough nutritional food. In 2016, nearly 18 percent of children in Indiana lived in food insecure homes, according to the most recent information from the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Kids Count Data Center.
Wayne County was the fifth most food insecure county in Indiana, with nearly 22 percent of children living in homes without enough food.
"(Wayne County residents are) not in this situation because they're irresponsible or because they're not trying hard enough," said Dave Snow, mayor of Richmond, Indiana "These are stigmas we have to overcome."
Despite a decrease in food insecurity in Wayne County since 2014, there is still work to be done, United Way leaders said. Innovative programs are needed to get fresh food in the hands of low-income Hoosiers.
In Dearborn County, for example, the United Way of Greater Cincinnati and its partner agencies have planted community gardens with plots for residents and small business owners to grow produce.
That United Way is now working to create a mobile food pantry to bring produce grown in the community gardens to food deserts, which are areas miles from grocery stores.
Hunger is tied to many other issues of poverty, said Dana Sinclair, community outreach coordinator for the Natco Community Empowerment Center in Richmond. Parents may not be buying food for their families because they can't find employment, or because they haven't been taught money management skills.
"When kids are hungry, and people are hungry, there are other problems," Sinclair said. "We need to remember as a community when you're helping with finding food, the next step needs to be what made it so you couldn’t have food to begin with."