Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Scaling Up Access to Local Food Workshop

All residents of northeastern Minnesota who are interested in local food and food access are invited to a workshop on Tuesday, November 1st from 4:30 pm to 8:30 pm at Itasca Community College and the University of Minnesota’s North Central Research and Outreach Center. Farmers, farmers’ market staff, and agency and non-profit staff who work on issues of health and food access are especially encouraged to attend.

Learn how food assistance programs like Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) can include locally grown foods. Hear about innovative ways that people across the region and across the country are using to connect local food supply (farmers and farmers’ markets) with low-income people who need and want healthy, local food. Network with diverse participants from across our northeast region. New ideas and new partnerships will be forged at this workshop! Together, we can build more and better channels for locally grown food to reach the hands of those who need it.

Presenters will include Rebecca Fee of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, talking about the Blue Cross “Market Bucks” program that expands SNAP customers' purchasing power at farmers’ markets. Deonna Bouska of Minnesota Farmers Market Association (MFMA) will provide training for farmers’ market staff and vendors as well as for individual farmers on how to become certified to accept SNAP benefits (food stamps) from consumers. Carol Milligan of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture will be joined by staff from Itasca County Public Health to discuss the ins and outs of food assistance programs: how they work, who is eligible, and more. Community Action Duluth will lead a session on community food access, focused on how to connect low-income consumers with local food.

A delicious local food meal will be served in the ICC Dining Center. Cost of the workshop, including the meal, is $10. Thanks to the generous support of Blue Cross, that fee is waived for the first 100 people to register. Also through Blue Cross support, travel scholarships of $25 are available for up to 40 participants. Find the registration form and brochure online at www.misa.umn.edu; or contact Jane Grimsbo Jewett to register: jewet006@umn.edu, 218-845-2832.

The workshop is sponsored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (a nonprofit independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association), Minnesota Farmers Market Association, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, Minnesota North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, and the University of Minnesota’s North Central Research and Outreach Center.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Study: Food Assistance Shifts from “Emergency” To “Chronic”

A new study, Food Banks: Hunger’s New Staple, released today by Feeding America finds that many Americans chronically depend on food pantries and other charitable food services to feed themselves and their families. The study provides an inaugural in-depth look at the frequency and duration in which low-income families seek food assistance from food banks and the agencies they serve.

Food Banks: Hunger’s New Staple study found emergency food from pantries is no longer being used to meet temporary acute food needs – instead, for the majority of people seeking food assistance, food pantries are now a part of households’ long term strategies to supplement monthly shortfalls in food.

The guiding analysis plan for this study involved the utilization of a pantry frequency question among clients surveyed for the Hunger in America 2010 project. Feeding America is comprised of more than 200 food banks that provide food and groceries to more than 61,000 agencies, including food pantries, soup kitchens and other emergency feeding sites.

“Feeding America was created to ensure individuals and families had access to food in an emergency. This study confirms a trend we’ve been experiencing over the past several years due to a weakened economy--many people are now turning to us on a consistent and ongoing basis to meet their basic nutritional needs,” said Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America.

“The report illuminates two important situations that millions of low-income Americans are facing -- first, seniors in need rely on us much more heavily than the general population; and, secondly, people enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) need additional help from our food banks. SNAP benefits do not go far enough in helping families meet their basic nutritional needs,” Escarra said.

Among the key findings of the report are:
  • A majority of people visiting Feeding America food pantries (54 percent) have used a food pantry for at least six months of more during the past year.
  • More than one third of all people visiting food pantries (36 percent) report having used a food pantry at least every month within the past year.
  • These clients also report they have used a food pantry for more than 28 consecutive months, on average.
  • Among the elderly, well more than half (56 percent) are long term recurrent pantry users, suggesting that the fixed incomes of elderly may be insufficient to provide for basic needs.
  • The study found seniors are disproportionately affected in becoming frequent or recurrent users. One out of three recurrent clients are 60 years of age or older.
  • Among clients currently receiving SNAP benefits, more than half (58 percent) are recurrent or frequent users.
  • Households that are food secure are more likely to have recurrent clients than other types of households. Although we cannot state this relationship to be casual in nature, it is preliminary evidence that in terms of food security, food pantry use over longer durations may lower the likelihood of food insecurity.

“The findings in this report are further evidence that millions of Americans rely on both federal nutrition programs and Feeding America and other charitable organizations to nourish themselves and their families during our nation’s tough economic times. Funding for all programs that help our low-income American’s must remain strong,” Escarra said.

For more information, go to http://feedingamerica.org/HungersNewStaple

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New Data Shows the Reality of Hunger for Older Minnesotans

Seniors missing meals are often poor, alone and disabled. Fewer than half of those eligible are receiving Food Support.

Hunger-Free Minnesota (www.hungerfreemn.com) announced today that new data shows a disturbing picture of Minnesota seniors who are going without food because they don’t have enough money to buy food and still pay for other basic needs.

New data shows the need for senior food support is rising. There has been a 22% increase in senior households receiving Food Support from 2008 to 2010. Of the 88,000 seniors living below the poverty line*, less than half accessed the Minnesota Food Support system. Those working in hunger relief programs say many seniors don’t know they qualify for the Federal dollars.

“In 2010, the average grant for seniors who did access the program was $76.00 a month, a meaningful extension to a senior’s food budget,” said Dr. Stacey Stockdill, president of EnSearch, Inc., the organization that compiled the data. “It’s important that seniors and community members are aware that this support is available. Enrolled seniors can shop at their regular grocery store with an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card that electronically transfers money to the store when they purchase their food.”

The reality of senior hunger in the state may be surprising. Data shows that 90 percent of seniors accessing the Food Support system today live alone. More than half of the seniors in this group are living with a disability. They are likely to have at least a high-school education, and they may have some college education as well. A typical Minnesota senior receiving some Food Support to supplement their income is white, age 69, widowed or divorced.

Study Highlights
  • Less than half of seniors below the poverty line are enrolled in Food Support
  • 90% of seniors on Minnesota Food Support are living alone
  • Most of the seniors obtaining Food Support in Minnesota are white; 88% are U.S. citizens
  • Nearly half of persons in all senior households are disabled
  • 31% of those on Minnesota Food Support live in Hennepin County
  • 37% live in Greater Minnesota
  • 2/3 of those getting Food Support in Minnesota are women
  • Half of Minnesota seniors have a high school degree or higher
  • 13% of those receiving Food Support have at least some college education
Home-Bound and Hungry
Ellie Lucas, chief campaign officer for Hunger-Free Minnesota says the food program is important to keeping seniors healthy and independent. “We want seniors in our state to enroll in the Minnesota Food Support Program if they cannot always afford enough quality food to stay healthy. Seniors who are hungry can be out of sight and out of mind. But our data shows that they are in our midst, and that too many of them are not getting the help they need.”

Changes to state regulations have made it easier for seniors to apply. The Minnesota Food HelpLine is a good place to start if there are questions about eligibility or the enrollment process. Seniors include Minnesotans at least 60 years of age. Eligibility is based primarily on income available for food. Seniors who own their own home may still be eligible. The Minnesota Food HelpLine is 1-888-711-1151.

With the graying of Minnesota as the first baby boomers reach 65 in 2012, the numbers of seniors in our state will continue to grow. A continued economic downturn and the Senior Access Index data suggests that hunger among seniors will grow as well, unless participation in food support programs improves.

Unlike the problem of hunger among families with school-aged children, isolation contributes greatly to senior hunger. In rural areas, geographic isolation contributes to the hunger problem when family members move out of town or when a spouse dies. In cities, seniors may keep to themselves with limited contact with neighbors. Data shows that about a third of the seniors who access food support live in Hennepin County. Another third live in Greater Minnesota.

Hunger-Free Minnesota is coalition of community leaders and citizens, nonprofit agencies, food banks, food shelves and corporate partners including General Mills, Cargill, Hormel Foods, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, and others. Hunger-Free Minnesota already has obtained $3.5 million in private funding to implement its strategic action plan comprising 22 statewide initiatives aimed at solving the missing meal gap in Minnesota. Initiatives include system-wide changes, new partnerships, education, policy changes, direct grants and other support for local participating organizations. The coalition encourages individuals and organizations to “Fight Hunger Where You Live.”