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Minnesota food shelves ask state for assistance amid record demand

Minnesotans visited food shelves at least 7.5 million times in 2023
Minnesotans visited food shelves at least 7.5 million times in 2023 02:03

MINNEAPOLIS More Minnesotans are going hungry at record numbers and state lawmakers are trying to do something about it.

Recent data found Minnesotans visited food shelves at least 7.5 million times last year — that's 2 million more than the record in 2022.

"We don't want to have to cut back on the milk and produce, but we can't meet a need that grows each month," said Virginia Merritt, the executive director at Channel One Regional Food Bank

That was the warning sent by hunger partners at the capitol Tuesday morning as they asked the state for millions of dollars in guaranteed funding for food banks across the state.

"The need is escalating and it's escalating quickly," Merritt said. "In February, regionally in southeast Minnesota, we saw a 64% increase in household visits in February of 2024 compared to February 2023."

The number of people needing assistance has been steadily growing for decades but has exploded since the pandemic — now double what it was just two years ago.

READ MORE: Shiloh Temple food shelf receives huge donations from Human Services, Cargill Foundation 

"I don't think they realize how much it's actually increasing," said Dave Rudolph, co-director of the SACA food shelf. 

Rudolph says they're stretching every dollar they can to meet the increased demand.

"You get creative and all you apply for more grants, you look for different fundraisers, you talk to different groups to see if you can, you know, get them or do a food drive," Rudolph said.

Under the new proposal, $5 million would go to Minnesota food banks every year and $2 million in one-time funding to food shelves. Rudolph called the idea a fantastic start.

"While $2 million is a lot of funding, it's a lot of money — when you're looking at almost 400 food shelves across the state, that's not that much," he said.

But Rudolph and other hunger leaders say doing nothing is not an option.

"A failure to do even this would only deepen this crisis and leave hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans facing food insecurity out in the cold," said Zach Rodvold, Director of Public Affairs for Second Harvest Heartland. 

Any direct funding for food banks would be a first for Minnesota. In November, the state sent $5 million in federal relief to assist food banks, but state money has never been used.

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