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Guest Opinion: It takes us all to address hunger in our communities

Partnership is key to everything we do. Our 100+ agency partners are critical to our helping end hunger. These partners are food shelves, soup kitchens, emergency shelters and other agencies who

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Earlier this month at the Central Lakes College campus, community leaders from across Crow Wing County attended the “It Takes Us All” event hosted by Second Harvest North Central Food Bank. This engaging and informative event offered the opportunity for participants to learn more about how hunger impacts our neighbors across the county and how area programs and people work together to help people in need.

In partnership with local organizations and programs across Crow Wing County, Second Harvest North Central Food Bank feeds, nourishes and connects people and communities. We are experts at sourcing and redistributing food and grocery products, which enables us to provide over five million meals each year with help from a network of partners and volunteers across the seven counties and two tribal nations of north central Minnesota. Together, we promote health, reduce hunger, and build community.

Who goes hungry and why?

No one should have to go hungry. Yet nearly 6,000 people across the county — including nearly 2,000 children — experience hunger on a regular basis. Experiencing hunger can mean not getting enough nutritious food to meet one’s basic needs. The need for hunger relief has grown during the pandemic and with inflation. As costs increase, our neighbors in Crow Wing County facing hunger are making tough choices between putting food on the table and meeting other critical needs. When we help people meet their nutritional needs, they can focus on meeting the rest.

There are many obstacles that undermine peoples’ access to an adequate supply of healthy food. Our food supply is an ecosystem of many parts, including the government, which subsidizes and regulates food, farmers, and the food industry, and sellers and consumers. These parts need to work together for the whole system to function properly. But things like low wages, high costs of living, and lack of nearby grocery stores can disrupt this food ecosystem. These disruptions mean that sometimes the food that people need can’t make its way through the system and get to them as it should.

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The face of hunger is children, seniors, and working families — they’re our neighbors, colleagues, relatives and friends. One in six children in our area face hunger. Children’s healthy development is critically important to our community’s future. We must ensure all children have access to healthy foods to support their developing brains and bodies. More than 20% of the people we serve are seniors. Many working families are just one paycheck away from facing hunger.

Although you can find people facing hunger in every community across the country, rural communities are hit especially hard. Feeding American reports that counties with the highest rates of food insecurity are disproportionately rural. Rural counties make up 63% of all U.S counties, but 87% of counties with food insecurity rates in the top 10%.

What are we doing about it?

Second Harvest North Central Food Bank builds and leads in partnership as a trusted institution in our region. We have been serving north central Minnesota for nearly 40 years. We bring people together. From volunteers to our over 100 partner organizations and programs, we’re a hunger relief hub across our region. We know our community. No one knows north central Minnesota like we do, both in terms of the need and in terms of how to meet it. We know how to reach the most rural, isolated communities who often feel forgotten. We even offer a mobile pop-up pantry program to meet our neighbors where they live, and work with our partners to ensure we can meet the needs of individuals across our service area.

We don’t just fill plates, we care about what’s on them. Addressing hunger means helping people get enough food, but also enough quality food. We distribute protein, dairy products and over one million pounds of produce per year. We care about the health of our neighbors. That’s why we provide healthy, fresh and nutritious food. We invest in the health of our community by offering healthy foods to children whose developing bodies and brains will benefit from good nutrition for years to come.

We can’t do it alone. Partnership is key to everything we do. Our 100+ agency partners are critical to our helping end hunger. These partners are food shelves, soup kitchens, emergency shelters and other agencies who access large quantities of food from us to help provide food for those experiencing hunger in their local communities. Over 300 volunteers donate over 9,000 hours annually, and play a key role in helping ensure we can effectively deliver our mission. Our financial donors — both individuals and businesses — provide critical support today and help us invest in the future.

Addressing hunger in our communities takes all of us. Financial support for our programs ensures we can distribute food today and is an investment in a healthy future for all of Crow Wing County. Volunteers and effective, efficient management keeps our administrative and staff costs down. Policymakers and all of us as advocates can help our neighbors have enough to eat, but supporting programs that provide food for working families.

Erich Heppner is Central Lakes College director of Student Life and Second Harvest Board member. Sue Estee is executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank.

Related Topics: CENTRAL LAKES COLLEGEFOOD
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