Since the national unemployment rate has climbed to a staggering 6.5 percent (as high as 8.5 percent in some states), more and more people find themselves below the poverty level. About 50 percent of unemployed people and families are eligible for food support, according to the non-profit MN Hunger Solutions, though many are unaware of these benefits.
But aside from church canned food drives, where do hungry people get their food?
Many people rely on food shelves to supplement their food budgets. Food shelves usually solicit boxed and canned foods from people in the local community, but some can’t get all the food they need through local donations. That’s when they turn to food banks.
Food banks are non-profit organizations with large warehouses that collect and sort food to distribute it to food shelves throughout the state. Most of the food at food banks is donated by private corporations, but some food banks also receive federally donated commodities.
“The vast majority of the food we get is donated to us by manufacturers…but we do buy food,” John Guy, director of advancement for Second Harvest Heartland said, “We got about $7 million in cash donated to us last year…most of that goes towards distribution.”
The three big food banks in the Twin Cities area are Second Harvest Heartland, located in Maplewood; the Emergency Food Shelf Network, located in New Hope; and the Edina- based Hope for the City, which accepts donations of furniture and clothes as well as food.
Hope for the City, while technically not a food bank, distributes corporation-donated food to food shelves and non-profit organizations throughout the state. Jill Hiebert from MN Hunger Solutions therefore considers it a local food bank.
Guy said that Second Harvest Heartland expects to ship out several million pounds more food than in previous years, but that may not be enough food for everyone who needs it.
“Donations of money and food have never been higher, but demand is higher than the support,” Guy said.
Guy said that during the past year the demand for food has increased 30 percent.
Second Harvest’s food comes from many different sources, including nation-wide companies like Kellogg and Del Monte, and surplus from grocers and local farmers. Guy recalled this year’s bumper crop of apples and said one Minnesota farmer called Second Harvest with a proposition: Second Harvest could take all the apples left in the field if they were able to find volunteers to come down and pick them.
While the crates and boxes of food were piled high in the Second Harvest warehouse, Guy noted that the warehouse contained about three million pounds of food on November 18th, but can hold four million pounds when full.
Some corporate food donations are non-standard, but still safe and edible. One example is a shipment of tortillas that Second Harvest expects to receive in December. Guy said if a tortilla is an inch too wide or not wide enough, it will not be sold, and is usually trashed. Instead of being thrown away, this shipment will come to Second Harvest.
Megan Doyle, founder of Hope for the City, agreed. “We try to make as many connections with companies as possible to catch things before they go to the landfill,” she said.
Hope for the City’s most recent project is a partnership with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, called Food for a Holiday (an off-shoot of their Food for a Day project). Volunteers pack a holiday meal, enough to feed a family of four, in boxes. The boxes will then go into the trunks of squad cars, to be distributed by deputies when they run into a family that needs it.
Katie Mocol is a journalism student at Hamline University and an intern at the TC Daily Planet.