Coalition sets free meal nutrition goals for Ramsey County


A newly released study recommends eight ways to create a model for providing healthy, culturally appropriate and cost-effective meals for Ramsey County shelters and meal programs by 2015. The report was presented to participating groups at a program held Thursday, Feb. 23 at St. Paul’s Neighborhood House.

The report combines studies by the Twin Cities Hunger Initiative and the Ramsey County Healthy Meals Coalition. The coalition, begun in January 2011, represents 12 free hunger relief meal programs and shelters in the county. It is funded by St. Paul-Ramsey County Public Health and the Statewide Health Improvement Program.

Best Practice Organizations

The study cites four of 415 meal programs in the nine-county area for their best practices:

  1. Metro Meals on Wheels for their healthy menus and logistics, with a focus on seniors
  2. Catholic Charities Dorothy Day Center for its integrated approach to basic needs and referral work
  3. Open Arms for offering participants a choice of 17 menu plans and good nutrition
  4. Loaves and Fishes of Minnesota for engaging volunteers and collaborating with other groups

“Hunger is a significant problem,” noted Dr. Susan King of the Twin Cities Hunger Initiative, a group of 19 hunger relief organizations in the nine-county area. “Poor nutrition can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer,” added Ben Johnson, director of food operations for Union Gospel Mission.

The recommendations urge coalition members to set goals, consolidate purchasing for cost savings, make nutrition the healthy default rather than a choice, share information, train volunteers in nutrition, set standards for accepted donations and connect with larger initiatives.

The study found that more than half of meal programs that are eligible for federal Child and Adult Care Food Program funding leave that money on the table. The report cites additional training and paperwork as barriers to participation in the reimbursement program.

Emergency meal programs in Ramsey County provide more than five million meals to 10,000 people annually, according to the study.

Gail Van Horn is a Twin Cities writer with daily newspaper reporting, magazine editing and newsletter writing experience. She has volunteered locally for Meals on Wheels, Simpson House and The Family Place emergency food programs.