MN food shelves navigate record high demand
Wednesday, November 22, 2023
The Thanksgiving holiday is here, as too many Minnesotans still struggle with food insecurity. New state support is on the way, but with record demand forecast, food shelves are encouraging assistance in a variety of ways.
This week, Gov. Tim Walz announced $5 million in American Rescue Plan funding will be redirected to hunger relief locations around the state. Leaders say Minnesota is on pace to see more than seven million visits to charitable food shelves this year, eclipsing last year's record total.
Virginia Witherspoon Merritt, executive director of the Channel One Regional Food Bank in Rochester, said they are seeing upward trends, too.
"It can be hard for the public to understand why everywhere is hiring, but the food shelves have so many people," Merritt noted. "The answer is that these are working people. It's not that they don't have jobs. It's that the wages that they're making, with their expenses, aren't enough."
Organizations like hers welcomed the latest round of state funding, but Merritt argued Congress can establish more long-term solutions by bolstering key aid programs within the Farm Bill. Congress could not agree on a new Farm Bill, so the most recent version was extended until next September. Some Republicans have floated certain program cuts in their push for tighter federal spending.
As for the public's help, Merritt explained donating money is often the best approach, because it allows food shelves to buy the items they need. She urged Minnesotans to consider volunteering.
"If they had time to volunteer one shift a week at a food shelf, that makes a huge difference," Merritt stressed.
She added many of the smaller food shelves are entirely reliant on volunteers, including driving trucks and stocking items. The funding announced this week is in addition to a separate $5 million round of aid Minnesota distributed earlier this year.
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