Weather affects food assistance agencies

2014-02-02T00:00:00Z Weather affects food assistance agenciesChas Reilly chas.reilly@nwi.com, (219) 662-5324 nwitimes.com
February 02, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Frigid temperatures, heavy snow and strong winds during the last several weeks have done more than create hazardous driving conditions in the region.

The extreme weather has created difficulties in obtaining food for area residents in need.

Several agencies providing food assistance to local residents were forced to close multiple days throughout January.

When multiple agencies are closed on the same days, it can be extremely challenging for those needing food assistance.

Capt. Rebecca Simmons, of The Salvation Army, said recent weather also has prevented residents from traveling to local pantries when the facilities are open.

Simmons said some residents have been unable to access public transportation or obtain a ride from friends or family. There also have been times when weather has made walking to pantries too dangerous.

During times when pantries are closed or when people can't travel to them, Simmons said residents could check with neighborhoods, church members or friends to obtain food until they can get to local agencies.

Simmons stressed the importance of contacting neighbors during times of extreme weather to find out if they need assistance.

Because of the need for food assistance, "we've tried to stay open as much as possible," Simmons said of The Salvation Army's Gary, East Chicago and Hammond-Munster food pantry locations.

Sandra Noe, executive director of Meals on Wheels of Northwest Indiana, said her agency has been unable to deliver to clients on multiple days in January.

Most recently, deliveries were canceled because of subzero temperatures in which frostbite could occur within 5 to 10 minutes, Noe said.

She said many volunteers often are waiting five minutes or more outside of the homes of clients when delivering meals.

Noe said Meals on Wheels has been in contact with its clients to check if they have enough food and if they are staying warm on days when meals aren't delivered.

On a recent day when Meals on Wheels was unable to provide food to clients, the organization was contacted by an East Chicago resident who was running out of food.

Noe said a Meals on Wheels employee who lives in that area brought food to that resident.

Meals on Wheels delivers more than 1,500 meals daily. The majority of its clients are elderly.

Megan Sikes, communication/advocacy director at the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana, said weather also had an affect on donations to the food bank in January.

Sikes said exact figures weren't immediately available, but "it's not a huge decrease."

A variety of issues contributed to the drop in food donations.

On some occasions, the food bank was unable to drive to locations to pick up food being donated. Sikes said some people who regularly donate might not have been able to visit the food bank during recent winter storms to make donations.

Although the drop in food donations might not be large, it comes at a time when more assistance is needed for area residents.

On Jan. 16, Arleen Peterson, the food bank's executive director, announced the organization would need to distribute an additional 17 million meals each year "in order to really make a difference in the fight against hunger here in Lake and Porter counties."

The food bank supplies food to about 100 food pantries, soup kitchens and after-school programs in Lake and Porter counties.

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