Friday, December 9, 2016

Addressing Food Insecurity with Kids Cook!

by Communications Intern Nicole Lieb

Before interning and volunteering at Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, I rarely thought about how food insecurity is a major issue in both the United States. Specifically, I never thought about how food insecurity affects children. In the U.S. alone, 13.1 million children are food insecure, in the state of Indiana, 355,410 children are food insecure, and in Monroe County, 4,750 children are food insecure. These numbers are both overwhelming and terrifying, as no child should be food insecure. After learning about how many children are food insecure in the U.S., I realized how hard Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard is trying to fight this issue.

Every Tuesday and Thursday from 4-5:15pm, the Hub hosts Kids Cook. Kids Cook is drop-in sessions that features hands-on cooking projects for children of all ages, healthy food choices tips, and delicious samples. Therefore, at Kid’s Cook, children learn how to cook, how to eat healthy, and how to garden, and on Tuesday, December 6, I attended Kid’s Cook to see exactly what goes on there.

Attending Kids Cook was easily one of the best decision I have ever made. When I walked into the kitchen at 4pm on December 6th, I was memorized by the smell of the kitchen and the excited children anxiously waiting to start cooking. At Kids Cook, the children were making Banana Oatmeal Cookies! The cookies are gluten free, vegan, and sugar free. Before the children started cooking, the Youth Educator, Georgia O’Connor, challenged the children by asking questions such as, “Have you ever made cookies at home? What are typical ingredients in cookies? What does flour add to cookies and why are we substituting oatmeal for flour?” These questions got the kids thinking and made them even more excited to start making the cookies!

All of the children at Kids Cook participated in making the cookies, from mashing up the bananas to mixing the cookie batter to putting the cookie batter onto the cookie sheet. It was amazing to see the children work so hard together to make the cookies. They were following directions, taking turns, and cleaning up while learning how to cook and eat healthy!

From the children being extremely cooperative to being eager to learn how to make the cookies, I had the best experience at Kids Cook. I was reminded of how important it is for children to learn how to cook and how to eat healthy, as knowing how to cook and how to healthy are very important. These children were gaining life long tips and were having so much fun while doing it!

I was so impressed by the impact and difference Kids Cook is having on our youth and how Kids Cook is making sure that less children are food insecure. Kids Cook taught me that the Hub is so much more than a food pantry, that it is an educational spot where people of all ages can go to learn how to better themselves, their communities, the environment, and the world.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Vicious Cycle: Untold Stories of Poverty and Mental Illness

by Advocacy Intern Dane Kirchoff-Foster
“It’s their own fault anyway!”
There is a fundamental belief underwriting our individualist culture: each of us succeed or fail based on personal merit.  This belief, for all its attraction, is not gospel.  Let others sing the praises of American individualism--I would rather now weep for its victims.  When we believe wholeheartedly that our life is our own responsibility, we render invisible those fighting desperately to make ends meet; we become skeptical (even afraid!) of those fighting every day against their own minds to do tasks we take for granted.  Furthermore, we forget the obvious--being mentally ill makes making ends meet harder.  We also ignore that which we perhaps never knew--the stress of poverty can turn your own mind into a new enemy.
Let this blog, then, serve as a quick education.  There is a vicious cycle spinning in the background of our society, born of America’s combined failure to adequately provide for the mental health and financial well-being of its citizens.   Those experiencing mental disorders in our country are at an increased risk to fall into poverty where access to mental health resources becomes almost non-existent; similarly, those already caught in the cycle of poverty are more likely to develop mental illnesses that they have no way to treat.  Without recognizing that this cycle exists, we can only ever treat half the problem.
The vicious cycle: mental illness leads to poverty, and poverty leads to mental illness.
In case you’re not convinced of this yet, let’s talk numbers.  A 2014 Gallup poll shows an increasing prevalence of depression the longer one remains unemployed; multiple reports show that about a quarter of the homeless population in America suffers from severe mental illness, compared to just 6% in the general population; finally, a five-year-long study by the CDC concluded that income is inversely related with serious psychological distress (an indicator for mental illness), and those with serious psychological distress are more likely to be uninsured, unemployed, and in physically poor health.  All this summed up: where you find one, you’re more likely to find the other. Furthermore, there is research claiming mental illness as a major leading cause of homelessness in the United States, and more research reporting the unequivocal causal effect of mental illness on unemployment, and unemployment on mental illness.  Not only does mental illness make it harder to keep a job, but experiencing poverty increases environmental stresses that can “activate” mental illness within those that are predisposed, but would otherwise never experience its full expression.
This issue isn’t about numbers--it’s about people.
The vicious cycle between poverty and mental illness, however, is not just a pile of statistics and facts.  It’s a human issue, with human suffering involved.  Here at the Hub, we get to see the human side of the issue every time we open our doors.
At the Hub, I met a gentleman who was kind, polite, and talkative.  He seemed at ease in the space we made for people to enjoy a short lunch, and had the effect of putting others at ease around him.  He was free with his compliments and also with his stories, so I settled down to listen to the ones he had to tell.  As I listened, I quickly realized (armed as I was with all the knowledge afforded me by my undergraduate minor in Psychology and my one class on Abnormal Psychology) that this man displayed all the classic signs of schizophrenia.  This man who was so kind and gracious, and had so many stories to tell, but had no one to help him.  He seemed lonely and quite alone, and about all we at the Hub can do is give him a place to stop by once a week to pick up food and maybe have a conversation.
At that same meal, I met a woman describing her own struggles taking care of her son.  After a long and confusing process, her son came out with five different diagnoses from different mental health providers.  Because of his (and her own) low income, she found it very difficult to find any suitable treatment for him.  She researched, becoming something of an expert on medical treatments for mental illnesses, and traveled to every mental health care provider in the area.  What she found is that there are alarmingly few places to go for mentally ill patients of low income, like her son.  Out of the few there are, all are overburdened and difficult to access--particularly if prescription medicine is needed.  Despite these challenges, this woman is still an advocate for her son, which makes him very fortunate.  Due to the nature of his diagnoses, her son had no insight into his own illness, making him incapable of being an advocate for himself.  This situation is all too common, and all too often there isn’t anyone to step in on a struggling person’s behalf.
Just last week, I had the pleasure of speaking to another woman at one of our Hub coffee talks whom has worked in the mental health industry for over 17 years now.  With sadness in her eyes, she described to me why people like the woman and her son run into the problems they do.  Out of necessity, mental health care providers serving vulnerable communities have started to prioritize profit (from Medicare and Medicaid, mostly) over patient.  This shift makes it all the harder for potential patients, often drowning them in paperwork.
We’re letting down those who need help the most.
These are the stories that come out of the Hub every week, and they are not isolated.  As a society, we need to stop treating mental illness as a problem only for those who can afford and access treatment.  In fact, it’s a uniquely common problem for those who can’t.  Addressing the problem by calling it just a mental health issue, or just a poverty issue, leaves behind the droves of people who experience it as both, and who are not adequately helped by one or the other approach.  We need to make more mental health resources accessible for more people--right now, the people who need help the most are slipping through the cracks.