The thought of not knowing when your next meal will be or how you will afford it is scary, but it has become a reality for roughly one in six people in the Tri-State area. Food insecurity is even more prevalent now, as many companies have laid off employees or closed altogether due to the pandemic. For families who live paycheck to paycheck and desperately need their regular income, a layoff for the household provider spells disaster.
Food insecurity is a problem that knows no boundaries. It is even prevalent here at the University of Evansville. Food is scarce for a significant and diverse portion of our population; however, many local non-profits, food pantries and organizations are doing what they can to provide for those in need.
At the University of Evansville, actions have been taken to help support students who cannot afford enough food for themselves. Aces Haven was started in 2019 to help support students at the university. The organization is stationed in Neu Chapel, where any student in need can go in on their own time, unannounced, and get necessary food supplies.
Theda Soldatou, former president of the University of Evansville’s Student Government Association, is involved with Aces Haven.
“Food insecurities are an issue that many universities are facing, and even though there were already resources on campus to address some of the need, we thought it was appropriate to create a center that could bring everyone together,” Soldatou said.
“We have also branched out to hygiene products, as well as school supplies and clothing items. We are in the process of growing to fill even more needs for students,” Grant Oxford, vice president of the Student Government Association, said. Oxford oversees the operation with the occasional help of community volunteers and campus fraternities.
Although the organization is relatively small, it hopes to make a big difference in the lives of those with serious concerns.
“We have partnered with student organizations to coordinate donation drives. We also partnered with a local church, who donated time, supplies and a large monetary sum. We do a drive at the end of the semester to donate Ace Bucks and supplies to continue to keep Aces Haven full.” The Ace Bucks are mostly donated directly by UE students who would otherwise let them go to waste. “These Ace Bucks can be used by approved students to utilize in Café Court so they are able to have a meal,” Oxford said.
The supplies Aces Haven offers and stocks for students is used regularly, but even if it only makes a difference in one individual’s life, the organization is accomplishing a great deed. “I believe that [Aces Haven] has done a lot of good to our campus community and it demonstrates the spirit of the Aces family,” Soldatou said.
Outside the university, multiple organizations in the Evansville area have taken initiative to help support individuals and families who deal with food shortages regularly. The Tri-State Food Bank has created a network of charities and food drives to help distribute large amounts of nutritious food to families facing food insecurity and individuals who need it most.
“It’s really incredible what they are able to do there. The people are friendly, and they really want to make a difference in other people’s lives,” Caleb Stevenson, who volunteered regularly at the Tri-State Food Bank in 2020, said. The impact organizations like the Tri-State Food Bank can make is significant and should not be overlooked.
“If you volunteer there, you’ll begin to understand how much the organization does for those in need. Seeing the warehouse and all the inventory is shocking. They distribute an incredible amount of produce,” Stevenson said.
People are being sent home from work, and the number of food insecure families is rising. Nonetheless, Tri-State Food Bank is distributing more food than ever, and continuing to support those in need.
Other organizations such as Feed Evansville and Urban Seeds are fighting to reduce food insecurity in the local community.
Feed Evansville is a task force that was established at the beginning of 2020, when the pandemic hit, and has collaborated with multiple businesses and non-profits to distribute food items and meals to locals in need. Their goal is solely to serve the community during these uncertain times and be an additional resource for others to lean on. Although the organization started to help families who were struggling during the pandemic, Feed Evansville’s activeness and passion to help the community has continued even as life begins to return to normal.
Evansville’s Urban Seeds is the lead organization for Nourish, a national nonprofit that works with food suppliers like grocers and restaurants to broaden community access to fresh food, especially for people facing food insecurity. By managing an online grocery platform and administering SNAP benefits at the Market on Main and Franklin Street Bazaar, Urban Seeds connects food insecure individuals to fresh fruits and vegetables produced by local farmers at an affordable price.
One of the most impactful parts of Urban Seeds’s outreach is its educational initiatives. The organization holds classes that teach people how to plan, shop for and cook meals on a budget, in addition to a second course that instructs professionals and volunteers on how to help the victims of food insecurity and poverty overcome resulting trauma.
Food insecurity is a problem that haunts millions of people around the world and many here in the Evansville community. In the United States, roughly 10.5% of households reported some level of food insecurity in 2019. Then COVID-19 hit, and that number rose to 27.5% by the summer of 2020. The University of Evansville’s Aces Haven is making a valiant effort to lower the number of students on our campus who deal with this problem. Local organizations such as Tri-State Food Bank, Urban Seeds, Feed Evansville and others are doing the same for the entire community. It is a problem that may never go away. However, people can and are making a difference in the lives of those who deal with food insecurity.