COLUMN: Working together for hunger relief

By Don Heinzman

Guest Columnist

Food shelves throughout the Twin Cities metropolitan area are hungry for your dollars and food.

According to a study by Second Harvest Heartland, 1 out of 10 people in Minnesota struggle with hunger, and 1 in 7 are children.

Second Harvest Heartland is one of the nation’s largest food banks and distributes millions of meals to people who need them. According to its website, a gift of $50 provides 150 meals for hungry families.

Second Harvest, with locations in Golden Valley and St. Paul, procures food from manufacturers, farmers and food drives. It is one place where food shelves can buy food at a much lower cost; just $1 can buy $7 of food through such places as Second Harvest.

Make no mistake about it, every pound of donated food is welcome at food shelves, particularly in March, known as Minnesota FoodShare month. Minnesota FoodShare is a major program of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches. The aim is to help keep about 300 food shelves statewide stocked throughout the year.

The Minnesota FoodShare March Campaign in 2016 raised $7.94 million for food shelves and collected 5.23 million pounds of food, its most successful campaign in 34 years. According to information on its website, in 2016, a total of 309 food shelves received food and funds.

This month is so crucial because Minnesota FoodShare doles out resources based on how many dollars and pounds of food are collected by the individual food shelves.

March 24-26 was the Pack the Pews weekend, when churches were asked to make a final push to bring in food and funds for their local food shelves.

Food shelf representatives say the number of people needing food is growing. Bloomington-based Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People has over 3,000 volunteers serving food to an average of 135 families a day in Bloomington, Richfield, Edina and South Minneapolis. Advancement Director Patty Schulz said hunger is real in the suburbs.

The VEAP March goal is $130,000 and 100,000 pounds of food. Schulz said many recipients have jobs in the booming hospitality area, but do not earn enough, particularly if they are struck by an unexpected expense, which could force them to go to the food shelf to save money.

Tony Compton, director of marketing and communications at 360 Communities, which serves Dakota County and has a network of five food shelves, said the demand for food is increasing. He said, across the board, seniors are a concern. He also said 40 percent of the recipients are children. Their goal in March is 50,000 pounds of food and $100,000.

The story is the same at the food shelf in your area. The need is great.

If you have not experienced hunger or don’t know anyone affected by it, it’s not part of your world. But the plight of the hungry is very real. Consider this description of hunger from Malwandla King, who describes it for others on the online knowledge sharing website Quora:

“Your lips are pale and feel dry, you involuntarily lick them yet they seem to feel dry again a split second after you licked them. Your stomach growls, it aches and then seems to stop but only for a while, as if it knows its cries will not be answered. It comes back a few minutes later.

“You drink water, it cools your stomach down but only for a while, the pain comes back in excess. As if to punish you for fooling it into thinking it was being fed…If you are fortunate, a meal comes along and you learn to appreciate every single bite…Hunger is painful.”

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Don Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers, a division of APG.