Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday Closure

We Did It! Another successful year producing the Itasca Holiday Program is behind us. With the help of hundreds of volunteers, we packed approximately 2,000 toy bags and 1,700 food boxes. Then we distributed all of the packages through nine locations in Itasca County and Hill City. We had enough toys and food boxes or turkeys for everyone. The community was generous in providing the gifts and funds needed to help our neighbors in need during this extra-ordinarily stressful holiday season.

Thanks to everyone who supported Second Harvest North Central Food Bank this year. Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Holiday Hunger

This week we are extremely busy preparing to bag up toys for over 1,800 children and fill 1,700 holiday food boxes over the weekend. Toys have been donated at many businesses and churches. The community has been generous with donations in order to provide a holiday meal plus several other meals for families in Itasca County and Hill City.

Difficult economic times means fewer toys have been donated than in the past. We will have enough for every child who has been referred to get at least one toy and a book, but that might be all we can do. Some years we have been able to give a toy, a stuffed animal and a book, or a toy and some stocking stuffers and a book. The community has been as generous as it can be. These are tough times for many of us. Some people who used to donate are now recipients.

When we planned the food for the food boxes in September, the economy was sagging but it hadn't collapsed yet. We planned for about a 15% increase in food needs. Now the 1,700 food boxes we are packing on Sunday will barely meet the need. We won't turn anyone away, but some might be referred to use the food shelf instead of receiving the holiday food box.

People are coming for help that never needed it before. They are ashamed and appalled to have to ask for food for their family. We are here to help them. But I worry about how we will help everyone who needs us next year. We can barely keep up with the need now. Where will the food and the money come from to feed all the new people who are hungry?

I'm hungry for something to hope for. Optimism is in short supply. Malaise about the future has affected almost everyone. But there is one bright spot that gives us hope - people really do care about their neighbors. During this season of sharing, we have overwhelming support from volunteers. Volunteers and donors keep us going.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Eve

This is the busiest time of the year for our food shelf. Yesterday, 106 families came to get food before the holiday. It will likely be busy today too. Thanksgiving is all about sharing food with family. Thanks to a generous community, we are able to help keep our neighbors from going hungry during the holidays and throughout the year.

People who never expected to need help feeding their families are coming to us in desperation. One man came in for the first time with his wife and daughter. It was obvious they had never been in a food shelf before, they were confused and embarrassed to be there. The father had recently lost his business and they had exhausted all their resources. It was painful for our volunteers to see how terrible this family felt about asking for help. We can't fix their financial situation, but we can give them hope by providing food, and give them comfort in knowing that people care.

Thanksgiving is the best of times and the worst of times for those of us who provide food assistance. Thankfully, we have enough food to provide for the thousands of people who need us. But the numbers of people in need are growing so fast we worry that we can't keep up with demand. Many food shelves have seen increases of 10 to 20% over last year. Providing that much more food is challenging. Helping all the people is hard physical work, but the "thank you's" and hugs are so rewarding.

When I look around my family table tomorrow, I'll be thankful that we are together and that we have the resources to provide for our needs. I'm thankful that we live in a country and a community that cares. And I'm hopeful that the future will bring change so that we can all survive and thrive in this great country.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Planning Christmas Dinner for 1,700

This week the Itasca Holiday Program 2008 went into high gear. We have been planning for months to provide enough food for about 1,700 Holiday food boxes. This is a huge effort and we do it in addition to our regular work, which is also busier during the holidays. Thanks to the assistance of many volunteers, we will be able to provide this much needed program.

The theme this year is "Weaving the Community Together with Food." The inspiration for the theme comes from our annual commemorative holiday ornament. Local fiber artist, Susan Vann, has created a beautiful, hand-woven miniature piece with a historic star pattern.

The Itasca area community works together like interlacing threads to provide a holiday food box to families and individuals who are struggling to meet their daily needs. Children in these families are provided with toys and books.

Threads in many colors are are provided by this generous community:
  • Social Service agencies, churches and other charities refer people in need
  • Churches and businesses collect toys via the Gingerbread Giving Trees
  • Many organizations have toy and fund drives
  • Volunteers sort and pack toy bags and food boxes
  • Site coordinators at nine locations throughout Itasca County and Hill City organize and distribute the toy bags and food boxes to people in their local community
  • Hundreds of people donate toys and funds
  • Second Harvest stitches the program together to produce food boxes and toy bags for local families and children
The Itasca Holiday Program weaves a safety net that feeds hope and ensures that our friends and neighbors in need do not go without during this holiday season of sharing.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Hunting and Hunger

This weekend Minnesota hunters will be out in force, after the big buck or just some venison for the family table. Hunters also have the opportunity to donate venison to a food shelf in their community. Processors around the state have signed up to process deer to be donated to food shelves for distribtution to people seeking food assistance. Food shelves are grateful for the donated vension as good quality donated protein is in scarce supply and expensive to purchase. People coming to food shelves in northern Minnesota are often familiar with venison and happy to receive it.

This year only whole muscle cuts will be processed and donated to Minnesota food shelves. Whole cuts have been found to be generally free of lead fragments that were found in ground venison last year.

The venison donation program enables hunters to take an extra deer, decrease the surplus population, and provide food for their neighbors in need. Good Luck Hunters!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Food Stamps and Budgets

One of the annual rituals of a nonprofit director is to develop the budget for the organization every year. This year I’m anticipating lean times and planning accordingly.

Budget cuts are coming at a time when more and more people are seeking food assistance. Most families are feeling squeezed right now. Low-income families are hit the hardest when costs for basic needs go up.

It seems like a hopeless situation, but there is one source of food assistance that isn’t fully utilized. The Food Stamp Program, known as Food Support in Minnesota or SNAP in federal lingo, provides food assistance to individuals and families within certain income guidelines. Most of those who visit food shelves qualify for the Food Stamp program but on average in Itasca County about 40% of those eligible don’t use the food assistance that is available to them.

There are many reasons people give for not using the food stamp program. There is the stigma that can be attached to it, especially when stamps were redeemed at the grocery checkout. Now a debit card system is utilized. Other people in line at the store can’t tell the difference between a food support card or if a regular debit or credit card is being swiped through the machine.

Another barrier to food stamp use is the application process. In order to sign up for the program, people are required to visit the county office in person and provide certain documents to prove eligibility. Lack of transportation, understanding what papers to bring and the times the county office is open are barriers to folks who could enroll.

Monthly benefits can be as low as $10 per month for single low income individuals. The complicated process for eligibility and recertification is often given as more effort than the benefit is worth. As hunger relief organizations, we are encouraging people to use their benefits, even if they only get $10 a month. Most of us would pick up a $10 bill or use a $10 gift certificate. Monthly benefits can be also saved up and used as an aggregate up to 3 months.

Your neighborhood grocery store and the local economy are positively impacted by the food stamp program. Those food dollars stay local. If more folks used the food support funds they are eligible for, it would mean more money in the local economy.

Budgets of both low-income food stamp eligible families and grocery stores would benefit from increased participation in the food stamp program. If fewer people needed to use the food shelf because they were using food stamps instead, the budgets of hunger relief agencies like Second Harvest and your local food shelf would have reduced pressure. Increased participation in the Food Support Program would benefit us all.

Budget time, never fun and this year worse than ever, but at least there is one positive program we can promote and support.

Friday, October 3, 2008


Harvest is a historically a time of plenty. Our farming ancestors (or current family) felt rich in abundance in the fall as they filled their grain bins with corn and wheat, stocked the cellar with potatoes, onions and squash and stacked jars of home canned produce in the pantry. They were able to get by until spring when planting started and fresh food was growing again.

Harvest and fall make us think of apple pie and stew and a warm house to come into after raking leaves or a football game. But many of our neighbors have neither enough food in the cupboard or enough funds to keep the house warm. Current economic conditions have pushed people who were just getting by to now needing help to meet their basic needs.

I don't need to tell you how much the cost of groceries and gas have gone up this year. We are all feeling the effects of skyrocketing prices on our basic needs. But what if your budget left nothing extra to give? What if you were struggling to pay off medical bills or your mortgage payment that just doubled? What if you were still trying to pay off last year's heating bill? You wouldn't be getting another delivery until it's paid off. Now what do you do?

There is hope. As always, your local non-profit organizations are helping people meet those needs. Food shelves, soup kitchens, Community Action organizations and many others are there to help in times of crisis. Unfortunately, we expect the need to be much greater this year, as more people are unable to stretch their resources to meet their needs.

This fall, this harvest season, a windfall has come to help meet the extraordinary demand for help that will be needed this winter. The Blandin Foundation has stepped up in order to provide additional funding for Second Harvest and for heating assistance through KOOTASCA Community Action and The Sharing Fund Additional funding was also granted to other non-profit agencies that provide transitional housing. (For more information check out www.BlandinFoundation.org)

What this means for Second Harvest and those we serve, is that we will be able to provide more food to each food shelf and soup kitchen served by the Food Bank, thanks to this supplemental funding by The Blandin Foundation. Fall and winter are always the busiest time for food shelves. This year we know it will be harder than ever to meet the increasing need. Thanks to this grant, food shelves and soup kitchens will have additional food available.

Harvest. Hope. Thanks to a generous community, we are feeding hope.