Help wanted: Feeding the hungry in Twin Cities

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Neighborhood House started with people collecting groceries for Russian immigrants who came to America in 1897.  The immigrants came without food, shelter or jobs, in the midst of a worldwide depression.

Today, Neighborhood House is the largest single food shelf site in Ramsey County, distributing more 3000 pounds of food daily from the main location at 179 W. Robie in St. Paul and five satellite sites.

In St. Paul and across the state, food shelves see more people in need this year. “Since 2008 visitors to food shelves in Minnesota have increased 62 percent,” said Josh Grinolds, development coordinator for Hallie Q. Brown Community Center. “There is a dramatic increase of visitors to food shelves since 2010.  Last year we had 400 to 500 visitors per month and now it is 700 to 800.”  Giving from donors (churches, businesses, foundation and individuals) has also gone down. Stories from three St. Paul organizations highlight the challenge of hunger in the Twin Cities.

Neighborhood House

“As a diverse culture we are very intentional about having cultural food,” said Sarah Yang, basic needs program manager at Neighborhood House.  “Our staff has the language capacity to serve our participants.”  Twelve languages are spoken at the center. The center orders monthly from Asian wholesalers.

Above: Food shelf volunteers at work. Photo courtesy of Neighborhood House

“In-kind donations are helpful but with cash we can purchase more food.  We can go to Second Harvest and stretch our funds,” said Susan Rostkoski, director of development for Neighborhood House Rostkoski.  “Our donors this year have had less money; they are nervous and worried about their jobs.”

The state shutdown for two weeks this summer affected the food shelf at Neighborhood House.  According to Susan Rostkoski, director of development for Neighborhood House, there is a ten percent increase of visitors to the food shelf.  More families need food.  Neighborhood House has to make the same amount of food spread farther.

Their food shelves serve a yearly average of 39,000 people, half of whom are children. Visitors are allotted 15 pounds per person per family once a month.  They must live in the geographical area of 55107 or 55118, participate in a Neighborhood House programs, or be a refugee here less than 5 years. For Thanksgiving, Neighborhood House will distribute 250 boxes of turkeys to 1000 families, according to Rostkoski, director of development for Neighborhood House.

Three big sources for food are Second Harvest, Heartland, and Emergency Food Network.  Smaller providers are local grocery stores like Trader Joes and Kowalski Market.  Fresh produce is picked up after the St. Paul Farmer’s Market daily closings.  House of Hope Church on Summit Avenue has a community garden that provides fresh produce for food shelves.

Loaves and Fishes

Dawn Haas, a site coordinator for Loaves and Fishes, said, “We cannot provide meals without all our volunteers.” Two hundred seventy teams provide food, cook dinner, and clean up.  This involves 4,000 volunteers. Teams of volunteers buy, prepare, serve and clean up meals on different site locations. Loaves and Fishes rent facilities for its nightly meals throughout Minneapolis, St. Paul, Bloomington, Richfield, and Shakopee.  Every evening they approximately serve 1,450 guests at nine different sites throughout the Twin Cities.

Photo at left: guest in line for food. Photo courtesy of Loaves and Fishes.

“I’m seeing an increase of two parent families with multi- children,” said Haas.  “Some sites are the same number of participants as last years, others are up.” The Frogtown-Midway area, she said, actually saw a decrease in people coming for meals, as families lost their homes to foreclosure and left the neighborhood.

“Loaves and Fishes was started by a priest and two nuns in 1982,” said Haas, “first serving at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church and the Dorothy Day Center.”

“People think it is people living in the street or in shelters that come for food,” said Haas. “Children come by themselves from the neighborhood.” Single parents, two parent families, and the elderly also come to eat.  “Anyone going through hardship is welcome,” said Haas.  “Winter is hard for people to get out for meals because of transportation and the weather.” 

“Economically we have changed. I see two parent families.  It is hard for me but I am glad we are here for them” said Haas. 

Only two sites — River of Life Lutheran Church and Dorothy Day Center — will be open on Thanksgiving.

Hallie Q. Brown Center

Hallie Q. Brown has served people from the Summit-University and Frogtown neighborhoods since 1929.  The center began as a settlement house for African American denied services from other agencies. Now is open to all people. Fifty percent of those served today are African American.

Photo at left: Food shelf at Hallie Q. Brown. Photo courtesy of Hallie Q. Brown.

“What is unique about our center is that our approach is comprehensive,” said Grinolds.  “We have healthy eating classes, clothing closet, pet food project and right now a toy donation drive for our 9th Annual Toy Boutique.”  HQB is accepting donation until December 16th of new and used items.  They especially need gifts for teenagers … gift cards, videos, make-up, and jewelry.

Visitors to the center can get 20 pounds of food of their choice per person once a month. The free tables of fresh produce from Trader Joes, Whole Foods and Mississippi Market grocers are available any time.

“There is so much opportunity to make a difference, build community,” said Grinolds.  “We are just short of funding.”

Want to help?

“A great way to help raise funds for the hungry is to do the Walk for Hunger at the Mall of America on Thanksgiving morning,” said Susan Rostkoski. For more direct involvement with the three organizations highlighted in this article:

Neighborhood House: Email info@neighb.org or call 651-789-2500. Volunteers and donations welcomed.

Loaves and Fishes: Email loavesco@loavesandfishesmn.org or call (612) 377-9810. Volunteers and donations welcomed.

Hallie Q Brown: Email via online form or call 651-251-9015. Volunteers and donations welcomed.