Marc Hackett: You can help ease the troubles from food insecurity

Keywords Food banks / Health Care
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The books are closed on 2023. Did your organization have a strong year, or are you looking at cutting some costs—tightening your belt, so to speak—as we enter 2024?

To one in four Marion County residents, “tightening their belt” is literal. Twenty-five percent of Marion County residents are food-insecure and struggle to put food on their table, which can mean choosing between food and utilities, food and transportation, or food and medical care.

This is a problem.

The National Institutes of Health defines food insecurity as a lack of access to enough food for an active and healthy life, but it is not the only food-related concern our neighbors have. Nutrition insecurity is the lack of “consistent access, availability and affordability of foods and beverages that promote well-being, prevent disease and, if needed, treat disease.” More than one in five Marion County residents (21.9%) rarely or never are able to eat nutritious meals.

The impacts of food and nutrition security vary from an increased risk for multiple chronic health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease and mental-health disorders in adults to growth and developmental problems in children. If investing in mental health care is good business, addressing the underlying concerns that can lead to mental health disorders is even more so.

Our employees and their families deserve access to affordable, healthy food. How can you support them?

Support philanthropic initiatives. Companies can give back this (and any) time of year by supporting organizations such as food banks and churches that partner with food pantries around central Indiana. Collect food donations and select healthier options like low- and no-sodium vegetables. Bring in what you like to eat at your home and think about the additional requirements or ingredients you need when preparing that food, such as dairy products for macaroni and cheese or can openers for canned goods.

Support your employees. Because you pay your employees, it is easy to assume they are well taken care of. But if you dig a little deeper, is that truly the case? A single working adult with no children in Marion County needs to make at least $16.18 an hour, or $33,654 a year before taxes, to make a living wage, which is the minimum income necessary to meet his or her basic needs.

If one of your employees is a single mother with two children making the minimum wage of $7.25, in Indiana, she is well below the poverty line when providing for her family. An appropriate pay rate can be the difference between an employee thriving and barely making ends meet.

Be proactive. Ask your employees what they need. Even if your employees are food-secure, they probably know people who are not. Seeing that their employer cares about them, their loved ones and their community can improve employee satisfaction. Multiple studies show that higher levels of employee satisfaction can drive everything from employee retention and customer loyalty to efficiency and productivity.

We tell our teams at the Jane Pauley Community Health Center that if a patient is able to leave their appointment with one or two fewer burdens, we have done our job. If putting food on the table is one of those burdens, we are honored to be able to alleviate it. Supporting employee health is always a good business practice, no matter the time of year.•

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Hackett is CEO of the Jane Pauley Community Health Center.

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