Dressed in neon blue-and-green shirts, a dozen walkers used the 3-mile Downtown Canal Walk loop Saturday to carry signs and share statistics about food scarcity faced by some people in the Indianapolis area.
“Hunger doesn’t just affect a certain population or particular economic class,” said John Wingfield, who walked with his wife and daughter. “I hope this walk helps people across our city realize that even if they aren’t dealing with hunger, the likelihood is that they know others who are.”
Organized by Faith, Hope and Love Community Inc., an Indianapolis-based Christian nonprofit that provides training and advocacy for food pantries, the walk is one of several events happening in the coming days as part of the 15th Annual Hunger Awareness Week. Gov. Eric Holcomb also issued a proclamation officially recognizing July 20-27 as such.
The upcoming organized events are aimed at raising awareness about local food insecurity, as well as drawing attention to the mental, emotional and physical implications of not having access to quality, healthy foods.
One in six Hoosiers are food insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food, according to Feeding America, a nonprofit with a nationwide network of food banks. Across the state, that totals to around 910,000 affected people.
Indianapolis has also been labeled as one of the largest food deserts in the nation, with some 18 percent of Marion County residents struggling with chronic food-accessibility issues.
“Food access is an issue that needs more attention and conversation,” said Merlin Gonzales, founder and president of FHL. “Hunger directly relates to so many things — like the ability to do well in school, or crime rates, for example. There are a lot of resources that exist already, and part of what we want to do is help people find out about those … and get the food they need.”
A speaker at the walk, Republican mayoral candidate and Indiana state Sen. Jim Merritt added that — if elected mayor — “food apartheid,” as he calls it, would be an “urgent issue” that he’d tackle.
“It’s an issue that’s really at the foundation of everyone’s life. … There are crises in the lives of people around Indianapolis. That’s why I came here to raise awareness,” Merritt said. “I will talk about food disparity virtually every day for the next 105 days (of the mayoral race), and I want this to be more than just one week of awareness.”
The walk also comes just days after Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett’s contentious plan to address some of the county’s food insecurity issues was passed by the City-County Council.
The $900,000 plan is supposed to offer further support for the Lyft Project pilot program to offer residents in food deserts subsidized rides to grocery stores; magnify the efforts of “champions” in neighborhoods to address food insecurity issues; create a mobile food market to bring fresh produce to food-insecure neighborhoods; and develop an app to locate food pantries and other resources.
Merlin said his organization’s focus on hunger and food accessibility doesn’t stop after this week. Instead, he said he wants to help build onto the mayor’s plan and provide people across the city with the resources they need to take care of themselves and their families.
“Let’s figure out the hunger crisis, the emergency, now. But let’s also address the ongoing problem,” Merlin said. “Job training, counseling, drug addiction, education … whatever we can do to empower, rather than enable, that’s what we’re going to help do. That’s why we need to keep bringing awareness.”
Here are more 2019 Hunger Awareness Week events: