GREENFIELD — About three dozen representatives of some 20 nonprofit and civic organizations brainstormed and captured inspiration with Sharpies and Post-it notes Wednesday in an attempt to tackle the hunger problem in Hancock County.

With more than 7,000 county residents facing food insecurity, according to a 2011 study by Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger relief charity, there was plenty to tackle as community leaders convened Hunger Summit II at Hancock Regional Hospital.

“We are the fourth-wealthiest county in the Indianapolis metro area, and in most measures we are a county of abundance,” said Paula Jarrett, Hancock County area director for United Way of Central Indiana, which co-sponsored the gathering with the hospital. “It’s hard to imagine there’s such a need.”

Last year, the summit spawned several initiatives targeting two fronts of the hunger war – child and senior hunger. The efforts included a recently initiated pilot summer meals program that serves hot lunches to kids on summer vacation; a program that sent food boxes to qualifying senior citizens; and BackSack, which provides a weekend’s worth of kid-friendly food to children.

Wednesday, community leaders and those battling in the trenches against hunger attempted to define lingering issues and identify the gaps in which county residents in need of assistance are likely to fall.

Though food insecurity has been trending slightly downward over the last three years, nearly 6,000 Hancock County residents – about 8 percent of the county’s population – are considered low-income and have limited access to healthy food. That compares to a statewide average of 6 percent, said Sharon Kandris, director of Community Informatics for the Polis Center, a research unit of Indiana University’s School of Liberal Arts.

The effects of hunger play out in a variety of ways, from forcing a decision between buying food or medication; to poor school performance; to domestic violence and behavior problems, Kandris said.

“Hunger very much correlates with behavior,” said Candace Sexton, unit director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hancock County.

Sexton said prior to the club instituting an after-school snack program, kids would fight over food and act out in other ways. “The behavior was better once we started that program,” she said.

The summit identified transportation, distribution and access as primary matters to be addressed going forward, as well as increasing awareness of the issue and opportunities to help.

Though there are 21 food-support outlets countywide, most are clustered in either the central or northwest parts of the county.

“Access is somewhat of an issue if people have transportation problems,” Kandris said.

Additionally, the assistance that is available is being underutilized either through a lack of knowledge or pride.

“Only 1 percent of all food calls are going unmet, and that’s great,” Kandris said. “But the issue is people aren’t calling.”

The recently unemployed or underemployed are constituents of a new demographic of working poor, along with senior citizens who are many times too proud to ask for help.

“Especially seniors that have been independent for so long,” Kandris said. “They don’t know how to ask for help, and they really don’t want to ask for help.”

Jill Ebbert, Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen executive director, said Wednesday’s summit continued to identify issues and furthered what was started last year.

“It was very productive,” Ebbert said. “One bite at a time is the way to make progress.”

With so many varied organizations designed to address an equally diverse variety of needs in the room, networking and finding common ground for collaboration became a central focus.

“Capacity in terms of staff, resources and budgets is a huge issue for nonprofits,” Jarrett said. “And the economy is driving collaboration. The collaborative model is where we’re heading.”

With that issue at the forefront, it was not so much what was said during the conference as what occurred there that pleased Steve Vail, executive director of Hancock Hope House.

“What I heard was very good, but it was more what I saw,” Vail said. “Relationship building cannot be overestimated. It’s people and relationships that make things happen.”

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