Purdue crew coach Jason Mitchell said he thinks when students come to college, they can become focused on themselves, and stop “seeing the big picture.”

Mitchell’s rowing team and head coach Katie Gearlds‘ women’s basketball team will join the 30th annual Hunger Hike, a community fundraiser to combat food insecurity, on Sept. 18.

“When you’re 18 to 22 years old,” Gearlds said, “you don’t understand some of the problems that hit our local community.”

Mitchell said his team’s goal for the day is to bring a lot of energy and a crowd. He estimates 170 of his athletes will be there, carrying their boats above their heads for the 1.5K and “doing the Zumba and dancing around.”

Gearlds said her team gets two days off per week, so they aren’t technically required to be at the Hunger Hike, but said she has “a good strong feeling they’ll be there that Sunday.”

Just over $49,000 has been raised so far this year in support for Hunger Hike. Their goal is to raise $100,000. Sponsors encourage students to get involved by volunteering, joining a team, donating or just coming out and enjoying the event.

“Yes, you’re a college student, and you have so much at your fingertips,” Mitchell said. “But there are so many who are struggling, just across the river, in our own neighborhoods.”

The proceeds of Hunger Hike are shared equally by the Lafayette Urban Ministry, Food Finders Food Bank and St. Thomas Aquinas’ Haiti Ministry.

The LUM has two food pantries and an overnight shelter east of the Wabash. The food pantry in downtown Lafayette has seen a 36% increase in use of its food services since the start of the year and a 33% uptick in shelter services, LUM Executive Director Wes Tillet said at a Tuesday press conference for the event.

Just as inflation makes it harder for families to stock the shelves, the same is true for food banks, Food Finders Chief Engagement Officer Kier Crites-Muller said.

“Food banks are not immune to inflation,” Crites-Muller said. “Every single aspect of our operations right now — food, transportation, utilities, fuel and wages — is costing more. Our expenses have increased by 50% on average (since January).”

Fresh Market relies on federal commodities in the form of food reserves and administrative funds from programs like The Emergency Food Assistance Program to help keep its shelves stocked, Crites-Muller said. The bank went from serving 8,400 families in February to 13,000 in July.

“Therefore, we have to purchase more food at higher prices to keep up with the demand, and at the same time, (TEFAP) donations are decreasing.”

Food Finders provides services in 16 counties in Indiana, and serves the Lafayette community through its grocery-store-like food bank, Fresh Market.

She explained the idea behind the Fresh Market is to create “a humanized experience” for any and all shoppers who walk through the former Save-a-Lot’s sliding doors, no questions asked.

Food Finders took over the space in June 2020, upgrading from a cramped 1,500-square-foot building to a fully outfitted grocery store with a freezer section, checkout lines and offices for its resource coordinators.

The organization’s resource coordinators work with newcomers seeking assistance with rent, transportation, employment or food for a large family. Crites-Muller said Food Finders takes pride in its efforts to accommodate a 23% Latino shopper demographic.

Two of the four resource coordinators are bilingual and nearly every posted text, from price tags to job listings, have both a Spanish and an English copy.

Hunger Hike’s third sponsor organization, St. Tom’s Haiti Ministry, furthers the impact of the fundraiser by adding a global outreach component headed by Duane Sellers.

“We think inflation is high in the United States,” Sellers said. “Over last year, Haiti’s inflation rate has gone up to 45%.”

He said local produce is almost inaccessible because of high costs and issues with the transportation of food from farmer to market.

St. Tom’s sponsors a number of programs in the Haitian village of Baudin, where Sellers said the church helps provide clean water, education and crop improvement programs.

With this year’s need being so great, Tillet said the organizers of Hunger Hike have taken measures to make the fundraiser “kid-friendly” and a more exciting community event.

“We’ve shortened the course (from 3K to 1.5K),” Tillet said. “Along the route, kids can make a trip to the boathouse and get a popsicle; there will be somebody doing magic tricks along the way; we’ve got costume princesses; there’s clowns and The Spinning Axe is going to be there.

“I think it’s going to be a really fun festive atmosphere, with a really significant purpose.”

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