Groups band together to fight hunger

Members of various organizations across Mille Lacs County met last week at Trinity Lutheran Church in Milaca to discuss ways to fight hunger during a Hunger-Free Minnesota forum.

Representatives from the Milaca and Princeton food shelves, Seven County Senior Federation, Pearl Crisis Center, Salvation Army, Lakes & Pines Community Services, Mille Lacs Veteran and Community Services, Catholic Charities and more talked about how they could all help each other fight hunger.

Launched in June 2011, Hunger-Free Minnesota has issued hundreds of grants during its campaign scheduled to end in 2015. The coalition of more than 300 hunger-relief organizations aims to close the state’s annual gap of 100 million missing meals by that time. Consultant Brooke Carlson moderated the discussion in Milaca last week and encouraged those present to brainstorm ideas and methods on how to end hunger in their respective communities.

“One of the things we’re doing is funding groups to come up with these strategies and implementation,” Carlson said. “What can we do regionally, and what does that look like in my community?”

Hunger-Free Minnesota worked with the Boston Consulting group, which conducted a statewide study to determine areas in the most need. Mille Lacs and surrounding counties showed more people missing meals than most comparable rural areas of the state. One out of every six meals is missed for food-insecure households in the area. The data compiled by the consulting group also showed a shortage in the supply of meals — something to which Milaca Area Food Pantry Director Carol Mueller can attest.

“The variety just isn’t what it used to be,” she said. “It just doesn’t come to the food shelf as it used to. It’s way down from what it was.”

The group also discussed the upcoming decreases in government food assistance programs, such as SNAP, or more commonly known as food stamps.

“It’s decreasing December 1st,” said Mille Lacs County’s Beth VanderPlaats. “Households will be receiving less.”

Depending on action taken this session, VanderPlaats said that SNAP assistance could decrease further. She also pointed out that while SNAP participation has increased 60 percent since 2006, a large number of people living in the county who qualify for the assistance do not apply.

Pat Root from Onamia’s Farm Market Cafe suggested there is another need in the area to improve the situation. Root said educating people on how to cook and which ingredients to use would be a big help in fighting hunger.

“It’s a huge need for people getting all of this stuff and don’t know what to do with it,” she said.

The group also identified community gardens and “food rescue” programs with local grocers as ways to increase the supply of meals.

Members of the group met again Wednesday, Oct. 2, in Mora to further develop their solutions and to vie for a tri-county grant from Hunger-Free Minnesota.