Minnesota nonprofits are looking to restock food shelves as hunger increases in the state.

Star Tribune: Food supplies often dwindle the first few months of the year after a surge in giving during the holidays. But after a record-breaking 7.5 million visits to Minnesota food shelves last year, nonprofit leaders say the need has increased this year. Organizations distributing to food-insecure Minnesotans need not only goods but also volunteers.

Dawn Wambeke, executive director of Neighbors Inc., a food shelf based in St. Paul, said that starting before the pandemic, food shelf visits were steadily increasing. Organizations have been struggling to keep up with the ongoing high numbers of people in need.

“We have never reached the demand,” Wambeke said. “Our capacity is limited by funding and resources.”

Some nonprofit leaders want state lawmakers to beef up funding to combat food insecurity around the state.

“We’re hoping that good public policy wins this session, being led by great partners in the anti-hunger community,” said Sophia Lenarz-Coy, executive director of The Food Group, a food bank in New Hope.

Hannah Fitzgibbons zips up a Karen staples package March 14 at Dakota Supply Group.

Hannah Fitzgibbons zips up a Karen staples package March 14 at Dakota Supply Group.

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

Last year, legislators and state leaders approved significant increases in funding for food shelves, including $5 million to the state’s seven food banks to buy extra food to distribute to food shelves, an extra $3 million a year to food shelves over the next two years and, for the first time, a $7 million fund to expand or renovate food shelves. Legislators also passed universal school meals.

Lenarz-Coy said these were “big wins” for advocates fighting to improve food insecurity. “Last session will really start to have an impact on families,” she said.

This year, nonprofit leaders are pushing for changes including expanding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit amounts for seniors and allowing more low-income college students to access SNAP.

Another important factor is volunteerism, said Dan Furry, communications director for The Salvation Army’s Northern Division. More volunteers and donations means less money spent to keep food banks operating and food shelves full.

“Whether people are volunteering or giving a financial gift, it’s that work that allows us to do our work and help families in need,” Furry said.

At Greater Twin Cities United Way, organizers are also making a pitch for more people to give with more intention by reaching out to local food shelves and asking what types of foods they are looking for at any given time.

“A lot of people in our community want to do good and want to help,” United Way’s Director of Engagement Melissa Caldwell said. “With a little bit of intentionality and focusing on the disparities in gaps that exist, not only are we putting support forth for people who need it, we’re also changing mindsets and behaviors across our community.”

United Way started Flavors of Our Communitya culturally specific food drive to collect food for Minnesota refugees, immigrants and Native communities to be available at food shelves.

Flavors of Our Community offers 11 pantry packs for six cultures — Afghan, East African, Indigenous, Karen, Latinx and Southeast Asian. Some of the packs are staple foods represented in those respective cultures while others are popular spices and sauces.

Culturally specific food has always been in high demand, Lenarz-Coy said, but food shelves have seen more of a push in recent years due to the many diverse cultures that call Minnesota home.

And that’s what Flavors of Our Community intends to do, Caldwell said — offer foods to people that make them feel at home.

Krista Lissick packs up a package of Latinx staples March 14 at Dakota Supply Group.

Krista Lissick packs up a package of Latinx staples March 14 at Dakota Supply Group.

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune


Madison Roth is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.

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