Hunger relief sees huge gap during winter weather

INDIANAPOLIS - Families who rely heavily on food-assistance programs have seen a major gap in help recently as the snow, ice and extreme cold have kept supplies from pantries.

Hunger doesn’t disappear when the clouds roll in. In fact, when the weather turns to snow and ice, people like Joe Mendenhall know the need grows.

Mendenhall and his son drove to Indianapolis to stock up at Gleaner’s Food Bank of Indiana’s distribution center because the truck that normally brings food to their area couldn’t make it to Shelby County.

Gleaner’s President and CEO Cindy Hubert said after a recent storm, Gleaner’s served a third more people than usual. She said the need grows with every frigid forecast.

"The children aren't being fed because they're not going to school... they're not getting their breakfast or their lunch at school or their BackSaks for the weekend. So, that puts a strain on the family," Hubert said.

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee knows the concern all too well. In his first winter as superintendent of IPS, he has already had to cancel school seven times.

Almost 85 percent of IPS students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. However, with the recent weather and a school district that buses in nearly 25,000 students every day, safety wins out every time.

"Safety is paramount because we don't want to risk student's lives so any time we have school in these conditions -- we want to make sure the buses transport students safely. Don't want to have a bus accident. We don't want families to risk their lives trying to get kids to school," Ferebee said.

Ferebee said the district works closely with the United Way, Red Cross and Indy Parks to help fill the hunger need when the district is closed.

Hubert said that network finds itself in a jam when central Indiana freezes over.

"If we have weather problems, it just comes to a screeching halt and we just have to figure out how to get out," Hubert said.

She said the last thing she wants is to see families have to decide between paying the heat bill or feeding hungry mouths.

Ferebee said in the future, IPS hopes to be even more proactive in the fight against hunger during the winter months.

He hopes to develop a program that sends food into certain pockets within the district on snow days to ensure the children with the greatest need are fed.

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