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Volunteer Rudy Caciano restocks the produce section Friday at Community Harvest Food Bank. The nonprofit has exceeded its capital campaign goal.

The stomach to tackle hunger issues

There are lots of words to describe hunger in northeast Indiana. “Rare” is not one of them.

Feeding America reports that more than 46 million Americans have relied on food banks or pantries at some point during the past year. Some of those people are your friends, neighbors or coworkers.

Feeding America estimates that one in eight people in central Indiana used food banks in 2014. Community Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Indiana Inc. did not participate in the latest national study, but Executive Director Jane Avery says the findings are consistent with the situation here.

Over the last year, more than 90,000 residents in the nine counties Community Harvest serves availed themselves of food through its center in Fort Wayne or one of its more than 400 member homeless centers, soup kitchens or pantries.

The local and national numbers suggest a hard truth. Though the recession is behind us, many Americans and many Hoosiers haven't yet “recovered.”

“From everything I've seen, I think the biggest message is, there's no change,” Avery said Thursday. “Nothing has gotten worse, but nothing has gotten better.”

Many only ask for food to get through a rough period. In fact, Feeding America's research shows the majority of households that needed assistance during the last year had at least one member employed.

People make choices between food and medicine, between food and transportation, between food and utilities, or education, or housing. A part-time, temporary or low-wage job doesn't mean there's enough money to support a family – especially if something else goes wrong.

“You break your arm. Your car engine blows up. Your furnace goes out. That's just called life,” Avery said.

“But when you're living paycheck to paycheck, it doesn't really allow you to build up a nest egg for some of these issues.”

Of particular concern to Avery is what appears to be a rising number of hungry schoolchildren and seniors. Often on fixed incomes, seniors are particularly vulnerable. Good nutrition for children is essential, of course, for their physical and mental development.

And there's a new area of concern. With what appeared to be a steadily growing number of military veterans seeking aid, Feeding America's survey inquired for the first time about whether any of the households receiving help includes a serviceman or servicewoman on reserve or active duty.

In one of four households, the answer was yes. Like most food charities, Community Harvest hasn't tracked use by service families. “But all branches of the military know to call, and we take anyone they refer. There's a no-questions-asked policy on that.”

September will be Hunger Action Month, but the need never goes away. Community Harvest constantly takes donations from wholesalers who end up with extra products, from hunters and butchers who participate through Hoosiers Feeding the Hungry, from farmers.

“They pull up with the pickup trucks, and say, 'I've got some corn, I've got some melons.' There's just a spirit. They're sharing.”

Donate by signing up for a Fort4Fitness challenge. Plan to donate a frozen turkey or cash for the holiday season on or before Community Harvest's Nov. 6 Turkey Rally Day. Volunteer.

With your help, senior citizens, children, veterans and families – military and civilian – trying to scrape by in northeast Indiana will not have to go without food.