Hunger in Anoka County – and the resources available for those affected – was the topic of discussion during the recent Compassion Action Network forum. During the seminar, panel members shared insights about hunger trends and what local organizations are doing to tackle the issue.
The network is an organization described as a collaborative effort of Anoka County Human Services, faith communities and nonprofit organizations that intends to build resources and strengthen the community.
During the forum, Hunger Solutions, NACE Food Shelf, Anoka County Economic SNAP Outreach, North Metro Pediatrics and Anoka-Hennepin Schools all partnered together to inform and educate the public on what resources are available for families experiencing hunger insecurities Anoka County.
According to Hunger Solutions, one in 10 households in Minnesota struggle with food insecurity.
“During the height of the last recession, we saw visits to food shelves at about $3 million a year,” said Hunger Solutions Executive Director Coleen Moriarty, “That is one every eight minutes in the state of Minnesota and we have not seen that drop.”
One major organization that is working to fight hunger in the state is Hunger Solutions, which takes action by supporting programs and agencies that provide food to those in need, advancing sound public policy, and guiding grassroots advocacy.
Through the Minnesota Food HelpLine, Hunger Solutions connects Minnesotans with resources like food shelves, farmers markets, meal programs, and discount grocery programs and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP.
Hunger Solutions also teamed up with the state and other organizations to create a legislative agenda.
In 2019, the organization advocated to fully fund the Good Food Access Program, continue mobile food shelf funding, improve school breakfast and end school lunch shaming.
“Taking their lunch away and dumping it right in front of them and saying ‘here is a cheese sandwich’ and ‘not only here is a cheese sandwich but you have to eat it in the principal’s office,” said Moriarty. “This is not the problem of that child, this is an adult problem. There is no reason to shame a child.”
Moriarty said that although Governor Dayton passed the school lunch shaming bill, some school districts have found their way around it.
In August, Moriarty said the legislature, organizations and individuals will have a meeting to discuss the next steps.
“Come forward and bring your concerns about what it is you think would be good for the legislature to focus on,” she said.
For more information about Hunger Solutions or to get involved, visit www.hungersolutions.org.
North Anoka County Emergency Food Shelf
For those affected by hunger in Northern Anoka, the NACE Food Shelf works diligently to provide resources for those in need.
According to NACE Executive Director Annabelle Budde, NACE serves 226 square-miles of Anoka County, which is a little over half the total square mileage.
One program that the NACE works heavily with is food rescue.
Through partnerships with Festival Foods, Kwik Trip and Costco, the food shelf collects foods that have outlived the date of purchasing in the grocery store.
“Yesterday I got 800 pounds of strawberries, so that is exciting,” said Budde.
However, with such a large collection, Budde says it is hard to get families in before the produce goes bad.
“I do not want to take those 800 pounds and leave them in my building until Monday so after my food shelf is closed, to the stigma of families that need food shelves, I reopen my doors at noon to what is called ‘must-go produce’. Everything must go and if it doesn’t go to feed a family it will go to a compost or a hobby farm. This was the most successful action NACE ever did.”
Budde says the must-go program was especially successful for senior clients.
“A majority of my volunteers were seniors so they struggled with coming to the food shelf and asking for assistance for a food order because they were being served by fellow seniors,” she said.
Budde says the food shelf’s next step is to teach their families how to prepare and preserve “bounty.”
NACE recently raised almost $20,000 for the food shelf through the shelf’s 15th Annual Empty Bowls event.
For more information, food shelf hours or donate, visit www.nacefoodshelf.org.
Anoka County Economic Assistance SNAP Outreach
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, is an electronic benefit used like money to buy food. SNAP benefits are for qualifying single people and families with or without children.
“SNAP is a supplemental food program,” said Sonja Traisci. “It was never meant to provide for all of the food needs. It has evolved a lot of cooperation between different agencies to help maximize those benefits.”
One example is Market Bucks, which help SNAP customers stretch their dollars to make healthy food more affordable. Market bucks matches SNAP spending dollar-for-dollar (up to $10) at participating farmers markets.
Apart from the food, Traisci says there are other benefits being a SNAP client.
“Clients active on EBT are eligible for a free government cell phone with up to 250 free minutes and texts a month,” said Traisci.
Additionally, SNAP clients get free or reduced admission to museums, zoos and historical sites.
For more information or to apply for assistance, visit https://tinyurl.com/y4q8j6uk or call 763-422-7200.
North Metro Pediatrics
North Metro Pediatrics is an organization dedicated to helping kids reach their full potential by providing affordable and accessible health care.
“The clinic was founded in 2005 in the response to fact that there was no safety net health resource in all of Anoka County,” said Executive Director Jeff Lundgren. “We are the only sliding fee primary care clinic in all of Anoka County.”
Apart from offering primary care, NMP works as a bridge to other services including those that provide shelter and food.
“When you talk about food insecurity, and we are working in many cases with parents of very young children, nutrition is an essential part of the development of the brain,” said Lundgren. “Without access to nutritious foods, that is just simply not possible.”
Lundgren also added that food insecure children were two times as likely to need to see a psychologist, four times as likely to require counseling and two times as likely to suffer from ADHD.
“It is not simply a physical health component but there is increasingly these indicators that point to food insecurity as a major influencer in a child’s health,” said Lundgren.
To help aid this issue, Lundgren says the clinic incorporates nutrition into their practice.
“All of our clients who receive preventative care from us are screened for food insecurity based on an industry accepted set of questions,” said Lundgren. “Then we have the ability to refer them to programs that will help. I am happy to report that this is increasingly becoming a standard within the industry.”
For more information about North Metro Pediatrics, visit www.northmetropeds.org or call 763-783-3722.
Compassion Action Network meetings are free of charge and open to the public.
For more information on network meetings, visit compassionactionnetwork.org.