Friday, March 30, 2012

National Nutrition Month

March is National Nutrition Month and Feeding America Food Banks like Second Harvest in Grand Rapids MN are taking this opportunity to promote the healthy food choices that food shelves and other hunger relief providers have to offer.  People are usually surprised to learn that fresh produce is almost always available from local community food shelves.    The amount of produce available from food banks has exponentially increased in the last several years greatly increasing the quantity and variety of fresh nutritious food given out to food shelf recipients. 

This year USDA has partnered with 80+ national organizations to promote healthy eating messages to their constituencies.  Feeding America is a National Strategic Partner in the MyPlate program and we are pleased to have the tools available to promote healthy eating to our clients.   Check out all the great information on healthy eating at

Many food shelves are able to provide nutrition education to participants thanks to the University of Minnesota Extension Community Nutrition Educator program called Simply Good Eating.  Nutrition educators work right in the food shelves and provide samples and recipes that encourage participants to try new foods and learn cooking techniques. 

Food banks are providing much more than the cans of donated foods that were traditionally distributed.  These days we are diversified into fresh produce, perishable dairy, meats, frozen foods and the non-perishable canned and boxed food.  Healthier diets lead to healthier children and adults.  This is an outcome we all can benefit from. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Food Security

Jesse Seave
President, Curry Without Worry

Imagine this scenario: You are hungry. It's been a long day, and you just pulled into the shopping center, planning to grab dinner at your favorite noodle house. You've already decided what you are going to order, what appetizer you are going to get, and what you want to drink. You might even splurge and get dessert, but you will wait and see how you feel after your eat. Sounds pretty normal, right? Nothing too extreme about this picture.
Ok, now, let's spin it. This time, when you walk in, I step out from behind the counter and inform you that you wont be able to eat here tonight. I explain that it's just not possible, and really, there is nothing I can do. You should leave. Furthermore, I explain, you won't be able to eat anywhere tonight. All restaurants are closed -- but just to you. You look around and see that others are eating, but food is out of reach for you, and you alone. And you're hungry.
For most of us, that doesn't sound like a great night. When we're hungry, we expect to eat. In fact, we expect to be able to eat whatever we want.
Eating when we are hungry -- or, as many of us like to say, when we are "starving" -- is easily taken for granted. It's so normal for us to get food when we want it, and most of us find a way to get it when we need it. However, more people than you might realize, and maybe even someone you know, does not have this luxury. Food insecurity exists in every single county in the U.S. If you aren't one of the people struggling to find food to eat, I can assure you that someone geographically close to you is, at this very moment, actually starving.
This is no small deal. This is a huge deal! After all, what is more important to your survival (and your family's survival) than food? This hunger issue has a lot to do with unemployment levels, the economy in general, and indeed with the personal financial and life choices of individuals. Still, the bigger picture indicates that in this land of opportunity, for many, it's just not working out.
This isn't your fault, or mine, but it is a real chance for us to help. You don't need much money to help; you just need time. You can volunteer, you can fund raise, or you can literally wait at the checkout stand at your local grocery store until you see someone who is using food stamps, and offer to chip in. It's always going to be easier to look the other way, but when someone looks the other way with you, it will be too late. If you have the power to make a difference now -- even a little bit -- consider yourself lucky, and go for it.
I know that all anyone needs to be generous and thoughtful is a little push. People are good, and want to help. But it's often hard to know where to start. I say, start simple, with the obvious: with the people in your everyday world. Picking up the check for someone who is obviously in need will not only help put them on track, it will give you the joy that lies in helping others who are facing the hunger issue.
And if you are someone facing hunger insecurity right now, I assure you, there is help out there for you, and huge groups of people thinking about how to most effectively remedy the hunger issue. You are not alone, and there is a hot meal around the corner. Hang in there.
Feeding America. Gundersen, G., Waxman, E., Engelhard, E., & Brown, J. Map the Meal Gap, 2011.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

8 Facts About Poverty That Will Blow Your Mind

Sid Mohn
President, Heartland Alliance

With campaign season in full swing, it seems everyone has a panacea for what ails us. And while I wish such a simple solution to the division of our indivisible nation existed, the reality is more complicated, requiring first and foremost that we understand the gravity of the situation.

This month, I gave a speech as part of the TedX series on this very topic. This post is adapted from that talk, hoping to shed light on the reality of poverty in America -- that it's everywhere, has no age, race or creed, and affects us all, whether we live in poverty or not.

The face of poverty is one like Charlene's, a single mom working hard to raise two daughters on minimum wage, with bills for her eldest's asthma medication mounting and an unenviable decision before her -- pay the electric bill or buy food?

I care about Charlene's future -- and her children's -- not just because it's my job or because that's the mission of the nonprofit where I work, but because as a human being, I am inextricably linked to Charlene. That's why I'd like to share eight facts about poverty that will provoke your head and haunt your heart. These facts and stories are not meant to overwhelm you, but instead, inspire you to see the world differently, to see that the fate of one impacts the fate of us all. And ultimately, show how you have the power to impact change on a life in need.

1. Our kids are poor.
At some point in their lives, half of all U.S. children will be on food stamps. This suggests problems of poverty AND hunger. Half -- 50 percent of American children. Right now, a family of three that nets more than $1,545 per month is NOT eligible for the program. It seems unimaginable that fully half of all American children will start their lives like this, but it's true. This cycle must be broken -- for their good and ours.

2. Our adults are poor.
Half of American adults will experience poverty by the time they turn 65. That means half of our neighbors will experience having an income of $22,000 or LESS for a family of four. Adults living in poverty often have a disability or are weathering extremely difficult times -- single moms struggling to raise families, or someone who's contracted a serious disease.

3. Our elderly are poor.
One of every six elderly Americans live in poverty. It's not just about gross income. Many times social security and pension income raise income above the poverty level. But when you take into account how much of their disposable income they spend on health care costs, particularly medication, and housing, they drop below the poverty line.

4. Too many of our workers are poor.
One quarter of the workforce earns poverty level wages. Right now, for a family of four, that's $23,050 per year. These aren't just part-time workers who can't find full-time work. In Illinois nearly 100,000 full-time, year round workers still fall below the poverty line. These are folks who put in a long day at work, yet still can't afford to put a roof over their heads and food on the table, always just one unexpected expense from catastrophe.

5. Our building blocks out of poverty are weak.
The very supports that are needed -- things like affordable housing and health care as well as access to good jobs -- are inaccessible to those who need them most.
  • Health Care: The number of people who lacked health insurance last year climbed to just about 50 million.
  • Housing: The number of families who pay more than 50 percent of their income on rent keeps rising -- increasing 20 percent according to the most recent study -- which raises the risk of homelessness for those families.
  • Jobs: Unemployment is at 8.5 percent. And the average length of time Illinois workers are unemployed has doubled since 2007.

6. Poverty is expensive.
Child poverty costs the U.S. economy a minimum of $500 billion per year -- the equivalent of nearly four percent GDP -- when considering lost earnings potential, crime and health care costs. That's about what the President's budget outlined for defense in 2012.
Care for those without health insurance coverage totaled $35 billion in 2004, which is largely shouldered by taxpayers. Investing in the short-term to solve these social issues can save us trillions in the long run.

7. Poverty CAN be reduced by 50 percent.
Through our research, I know we can reduce the number of those living in extreme poverty by half. (Extreme poverty refers to those who live below 50 percent of the federal poverty threshold -- that means a family of 4 who makes less than $11,000 a year.)
By providing a short-term bundle of services -- housing, health care, jobs and justice -- we can help people lift themselves out of extreme poverty and stay out of poverty for good:
Housing: Making sure everyone has a roof over their head -- a safe place that's affordable. This is key -- a place to call home is the first step.
  • Health Care: If someone is sick, or malnourished, or can't afford medicine, they can't make the journey out of poverty. You have to be healthy to work.
  • Jobs: Work is the backbone of escaping poverty. Folks need the education and the skills to work. We need to help them make that happen.
  • Justice: If someone can't find work because of discrimination, or is being held hostage by a violent situation, they can't be productive. We must ensure justice for those who find themselves ostracized from our communities.

8. Change starts with you.
In today's discourse, there's too much "us" vs. "them." We need to change that focus to "we" -- all united, working together to ensure everyone has the opportunity to live a better life. Our country was founded on notions that anyone can pull themselves up from their bootstraps. But our divided nation continues to strip away at the tools needed to grab hold of those bootstraps. We've been negating our proud tradition of believing in the common good.

We can't allow politicians to chip away at the services that keep people fed, housed, and on the road to becoming self-sufficient. We can't allow the nonprofits who work one-on-one with people in poverty to lose their funding and strip them of the ability to help those in need. And we can't continue to see the problem of poverty as someone else's problem. Because we can all make a difference to a life in need.

Take Betty Anne for example. She's struggled all her life with serious mental illness, but she's now living in a subsidized apartment and doing well. Every month when she gets her disability check, she puts a little money in a bag and asks her neighbors in the apartment building to do the same. She collects that money to buy food at the local grocery and makes sack lunches to distribute to people with serious mental illness who are living in the park.

Betty Anne gives back because she can and she knows it makes a world of difference to those folks in the park. She's walked in their shoes, and it's important for her to extend the kindness and care that strangers extended to her when she was alone and on the streets.

You can make a difference too. Educate yourselves about what's needed to help people out of poverty, volunteer at a local organization that's helping people in need, forgo that latte each morning and donate that money to help a family put food on the table and a roof over their heads. And when the time comes, vote -- not just for your interests but for the interests of our whole, divided, indivisible nation.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

10 years of the Itasca Empty Bowls Project - Grand Rapids Herald-Review: News

10 years of the Itasca Empty Bowls Project - Grand Rapids Herald-Review: News: “We’ve got some awesome bowls for the silent auction. The celebrity bowls are just beautiful,” said Second Harvest Food Bank Executive Directo…

Friday, March 2, 2012

Grand Rapids Food Shelf Kicks Off Annual March Campaign

February 23rd, Grand Rapids, MN – Throughout the month of March, the Grand Rapids Food Shelf is joining with over 300 food shelves across Minnesota to collect donations of money and food. These donations will support local efforts to help feed people in need and reduce hunger in our community. When congregations, businesses, schools or service clubs participate in the March FoodShare Campaign, the Food Shelf will make sure that the food and funds collected provides hunger assistance for people in our community who need it most. 

This year, the theme of the Grand Rapids Food Shelf’s March FoodShare Campaign is “Be a Hunger Hero.” “Due to the reality that one out of nine families in the greater Grand Rapids area turns to us for assistance, the need is greater than ever,” according to Ellen Christmas, Program Manager of the Grand Rapids Food Shelf. “In order to keep the shelves stocked and meet the need, we count on local support to provide food and hope to many families trying to keep food on the table. Every effort or contribution, large or small, helps us to continue to feed people. March is the time of year we can leverage additional dollars for the food shelf through donations because of the FoodShare Campaign and the Feinstein Challenge,” she added.

In 2011, the Food Shelf distributed food to over 2,500 individuals every month. Our current resources cannot meet need for the increasing number of families turning to us for help. That is why we are asking for generous support from the entire community. Every March, Minnesota FoodShare, a program of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches, organizes Minnesota's largest food and fund drive for the hungry. FoodShare is a grass-roots driven food and fund drive that raises awareness about hunger in Minnesota where statistics show 1 in 4 Itasca county children do not have enough food to eat.  All food and funds contributed locally stay in the area but are counted towards the statewide goal of 12 million pounds and dollars. 

There are many ways to become a Hunger Hero; donate to your local food shelf, host a food drive, or become a hunger relief advocate by taking action to end hunger.

For more information contact Program Manager, Ellen Christmas at 218.326.4420 or