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Millions of Food Shelf Visits Show Other Side of Recovery in MN

With more than three million visits in 2015, food shelf operators say more funding is needed to keep pace with demand. (iStockphoto)
With more than three million visits in 2015, food shelf operators say more funding is needed to keep pace with demand. (iStockphoto)
March 10, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Many economists agree the U.S. is successfully bouncing back from the Great Recession, but the high number of food shelf visits tells a different story for some Minnesotans.

Last year, food shelves across the state saw more than 3 million visits from people who are struggling to make ends meet.

That's according to Hunger Solutions Minnesota, which reports 2015 marked the fifth year in a row with more than 3 million visits.

Hunger Solutions Executive Director Colleen Moriarty says this has become the new normal for the state's emergency food system.

"Families are still struggling in our communities," says Moriarty. "Food shelves throughout the state, more than 300 of them, are doing their very best to meet the need. But it continues to be a struggle and there doesn't seem to be any end in sight."

As state lawmakers consider what to do with a $900 million budget surplus, Moriarty's group is asking them to increase funding for the Minnesota Food Shelf Program. She argues the extra money will help the food shelves keep pace with demand.

Deisy De Leon Esqueda manages the ECHO Food Shelf in Mankato and has been serving four times as many seniors than before the recession began.

She says even though Minnesota's unemployment and poverty rates are among the lowest in the country, good economic opportunities aren't available to everyone.

"There's jobs out there, but they're not paying what they used to pay before," she says. "We're seeing families that need to have both parents working in order to make ends meet, and still that's not enough."

Hunger Solutions reports adults over the age of 65 are the fastest growing group of food shelf users.

Moriarty says since the number of people relying on food shelves has jumped in recent years, so too has the demand for more fresh foods.

She says that's leading to new operating and equipment costs in order to keep fruits and vegetables in stock.

"The demands on the food shelves is ever increasing; we just haven't seen it improve," says Moriarty. "So, we feel that we're in a unique case to be able to ask for more funding for basic needs."

Currently, the state has set aside more than $3 million to support the Minnesota Food Shelf Program.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - MN