Two decades have passed since Twin Cities residents learned about the food shelf at Wabasso, in west-central Minnesota, or as the community promotes itself, “smack dab in the middle of Redwood County.” It’s time to take another close look.
Back then, in what was known as the farm financial crisis of the 1980s, the food shelf in the basement of St. Matthews Lutheran Church was supplying food to a disturbingly high number of farm families that didn’t have incomes while crops were growing in the field.
This time around, rural poor and especially the working poor are being squeezed by rapidly rising food and energy prices. Household purchasing power shrinks, incomes aren’t keeping pace, and growing numbers of people are making painful decisions between buying food or fuel, and between buying medicine or meals.
“It seems to be a lot of young people who are in need,” said Armin Dallmann, a retired Wabasso area farmer and an officer of the Wabasso food shelf. “It isn’t farmers this time,” adds Krista Daniels, editor of the Wabasso Standard weekly newspaper.
Those Wabasso community assessments are consistent with findings from Hunger Solutions Minnesota, Wilder Foundation researchers and the Second Harvest Heartland food bank that have examined the increasing need for food assistance in Minnesota. Those findings were advanced July 29 in the Minnesota 2020 report, “Food for Thought: Hunger is Bad for Business, Bad for Everyone.”
What research shows is that the greatest increased demand for food assistance is coming from the working poor. On top of that, senior citizens living on fixed incomes are vulnerable to rising food and energy prices as well, and current economic and demographic trends suggest this problem will become greater in the months ahead.
That being the case, it was time to check in with food shelf operators at Wabasso. “We’re pretty good about taking care of our community,” said Dallmann in what can only be considered a modest understatement.
All of the churches in and around Wabasso have food drives and fund drives to support the food shelf. Most of the same ecumenical-minded people also support the senior feeding program at the Wabasso community center, where people can go, meet friends and have a hot noontime meal for $3.50. And then volunteers, such as Dallmann, also make Meals-on-Wheels deliveries to people who can’t get out to the senior feeding program.
Physical needs, such as meal deliveries, are met because people know their neighbors. Financial needs, however, are more private and privacy can be protected. Lutheran Social Services steps in and pays for shortfalls when people have trouble paying for the noon senior citizens’ meals.
This same respect for people in meeting human needs is shown in the location of the food shelf. It was placed in St. Matthews Lutheran Church because this newer church had room in the basement and is on the edge of town. A former priest at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in downtown Wabasso made that point when he used his keys to open the Lutheran Church to show a visiting reporter the food shelf 21 years ago.
“No one has to see you coming out with a box of groceries,” the priest said. “We can’t offer that privacy at St. Anne’s.”
Some comment was undoubtedly made about the ecumenical response to hunger as the Catholic priest took out his keys and locked up the Lutheran Church. “‘It’ is beautiful when you see ‘it’ taken out of the sanctuary, taken home and put to work,” the priest said of the religious and moral response of people at Wabasso.
Indeed. And we’re going to need a lot more of ‘it.’
The Minnesota 2020 report on hunger noted that suburban communities are seeing explosive demand growth for food assistance as jobs and houses are lost in the current economic climate.
Rising food costs, combined with rising healthcare costs and energy costs that will get worse as cold weather returns to Minnesota, will make keeping food on the table far more difficult for thousands of our neighbors. Wabasso shows us how we can be our brothers’ (and sisters’) keepers, and darn good neighbors.