by Anika Rychner
Special to Sun Thisweek
Dakota County Tribune
Think of the last thing you ate. Are you still full? Or is your stomach rumbling? Are you worried about where your next meal will come from? Or will it be easy and stress-free for you to find a nutritious meal? Unfortunately for many Minnesotans, especially children, having enough food is not easy.
I can’t help but think of three little boys I met a few weeks ago. School was closed that Friday, so they came to 360 Communities Burnsville Food Shelf with their mother because there was no food in the home. It was about 3 p.m. and I happened to be visiting with some of the food shelf volunteers when they came in to shop. The boys’ eyes lit up when they saw all the food they had to choose from and the middle boy, about 7 years old, immediately grabbed an orange from one of the brightly colored displays. His mother looked embarrassed and told him to put it back. I immediately tried to put her at ease and asked if I could take him to the kitchen to cut up the orange. She agreed, and as I watched the boy finish the orange, I asked him if he had eaten that day. With orange juice dripping down his chin he looked into my eyes and replied, “No.” We went right back to the food shelf for his brothers and more oranges.
Last year, more than 10,200 people made nearly 40,000 visits to our network of food shelves. Over 40 percent of the people we served were children. People access our food shelves every day for many reasons:
• “I get food from the food shelf because … I am a single mom with five kids and I have Stage 4 cancer. It is a huge help!”
• “I get food from the food shelf because … I need to support my family while working part-time and going to school full-time.”
• “I get food from the food shelf because … It helps feed my family since I have been given extra mouths to feed since retiring.”
These are just a few of the messages 360 Communities food shelf customers wrote on paper plates that are hanging on the wall outside of the Burnsville Food Shelf. This display was a part of Hunger Solutions’ Paper Plate Project which ran preceding its Hunger Day on the Hill event in St. Paul on March 13. Our food shelf customers’ words spoke to the challenges they have faced, the hope and support they feel when they come to 360 Communities, and the sense of caring they feel from the community.
The Open Door, another Dakota County nonprofit, invited 360 Communities’ staff and volunteers to travel with them to the State Capitol to take part in Hunger Day on the Hill. Our organizations are among the leaders in healthy food distribution in Dakota County. Together, we joined other food shelves from around Minnesota to share strategies in the battle against hunger, and to speak with state legislators about the funding needs of our healthy food choice pantries.
We met with state Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, and state Rep. Sandra Masin, DFL-Eagan, to urge them to vote in favor of increasing state food shelf funding (Senate File 249/ House File 1861) and access to healthy food, something that has not occurred since 1996. We told Hall stories about the barriers faced by our food shelf customers and delivered the paper plate messages we collected for the Paper Plate Project.
Please encourage your representatives at the Capitol to support increasing state food shelf support. The need is urgent as food shelf visits are on the rise in Minnesota. According to Hunger Solutions, visits to food pantries rose 5.9 percent between 2011 and 2015. In that same time period, 23.7 percent more seniors visited food shelves. Over the past two years, 360 Communities’ network has seen an increase in food shelf visits of 6.9 percent.
Providing food for hungry children and families is a sincere privilege and it is also a challenge I wish didn’t exist. The challenge is real, right here in Dakota County and we need your help in supporting our neighbors in need.
Minnesota FoodShare’s March Campaign is in full swing. This is the largest food drive event in Minnesota, with over 300 participating food shelves, including 360 Communities’ network of five food shelves in Apple Valley, Burnsville, Farmington, Lakeville, and Rosemount. During the month of March, our food shelves have a goal of raising $100,000 and 50,000 pounds of food. You can support 360 Communities’ network of five food shelves in March in a number of ways:
• Donate at 360Communities.org.
• Organize a food drive or fundraiser.
• Take our Pie in the Face Challenge. Visit our website for all the details and materials you need.
• Participate in Minnesota FoodShare’s Pack the Pews. Between March 24 and March 26, all faith communities are invited to collect donations to bolster food shelves around the state.
Any support of food or cash donations to our food shelves will qualify 360 Communities for a greater share of Minnesota FoodShare’s grant money, stretching your contributions even further.
Finally, thank you. We appreciate our generous community members who already support us in so many ways. For every child and every adult we are able to feed, you are behind us, providing support and contributions. It is this generosity that allows us to look into a child’s eyes and provide the hope and support they need to thrive.
Anika Rychner is director of self-sufficiency at 360 Communities, a Dakota County nonprofit that works to prevent violence, ensure school success and promote long-term self-sufficiency. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.