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From 2000 to 2010, food shelf usage across Minnesota has tripled — from more than 1 million visits to more than 3 million visits annually.

Welcome to arguably the most telling statistic about how tough the first decade of the 21st century was on Minnesotans. That’s right. As of last year, the 300 food shelves statewide saw more than 3 million visits. Three million! Up from 1 million to start the decade.

Perhaps even more foreboding are these findings, courtesy of the Minnesota FoodShare campaign:

From 2008 to 2009, there was a 25 percent increase in food shelf visits in Minnesota — the largest recorded increase in 28 years.

In 2010, food shelf usage increased on average 14 percent statewide. In the Twin Cities’ suburbs, some food shelves saw a 60 percent increase.

It’s estimated 14 percent of all Minnesota households do not have enough food on hand. That equates to about 723,000 hungry Minnesotans — almost the combined populations of Minneapolis, St. Paul and St. Cloud.

Numbers like those inspire us to ask Central Minnesotans to do all they can to help with the 2011 Minnesota FoodShare March Campaign.

This annual campaign began in 1982 and this year has a goal of raising 12 million combined pounds and dollars from individuals, businesses and many others. Achieving that goal will help restock food shelves across the state, including about two dozen in Central Minnesota.  

At a local level, you can help lead food drives in your neighborhood, at your work, school or place of worship. And don’t forget the simplicity and effectiveness of just donating money to a participating food shelf. It’s easy for you, and the money you give is pooled with other donations and can purchase up to 10 times the amount of food you could buy with it at a store.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the 2011 FoodShare campaign is really just starting. Participating entities report to FoodShare their totals once a week throughout March, with donations ultimately due the first week in April.