Some food banks in Minnesota return to normalcy after pandemic challenges

Elizabeth Spadaccini
Second Harvest Heartland staff load boxes into a carSecond Harvest Heartland

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – Food banks in Minnesota operated consistently throughout the heights of the COVID-19 pandemic, facing challenges in increased demand and decreased supply. While food insecurity remains an issue in Minnesota, some food banks are finding they are able to reopen and shed strains brought on by the pandemic.

Food insecurity is not infrequent in Minnesota. Feeding America’s 2020 Food Insecurity Projections reported in October 2020 that one in nine people in Minnesota experience food insecurity. Alison Griffin, director of communications at Second Harvest Heartland, said that number is partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, when food insecurity became an even larger issue. Griffin said the hunger relief operation had to keep providing their typical services, especially with increased need for their hunger relief services.

“We had to keep doing everything we are professionals at doing, we just had to figure out completely new ways to do just about all of it.” said Griffin.

Second Harvest and their partners are so-called basic needs operations, in that they provide items and services people rely on for daily life. Griffin said because of that, there was no option to slow down or stop their work. Minnesota's hunger relief organizations had to adapt in a number of ways. Griffin gave examples of the changes – it was harder to get product and volunteer operations slowed or stopped because of their in-person nature.
Second Harvest staff member loads food into warehouseSecond Harvest Heartland

The experiences of hunger relief operations across the state varied in the face of Covid-19, and Second Harvest Heartland agency partners each faced their own challenges. Tom Redman, Chairman of the Board at Bountiful Basket Food Shelf, emphasized the loyalty of volunteers on the pickup and distribution end during the pandemic.

“The majority of our volunteers continued to come to help people that were in need,'' said Redman. “We were very fortunate that we were able to continue to provide the same amount of food to an increasing number of people.”

Redman added that a mobile food program that the organization had established a year prior to the pandemic became a hugely helpful aspect of their operation, helping them reach those in need more efficiently.

Second Harvest had a similar experience with a new program named Minnesota Central Kitchen. Griffin said it emerged very early in the pandemic, and connects restaurants and caterers to hunger relief operations, providing prepared meals to those in need instead of boxes of individual ingredients.

“That’s something that was borne out of the pandemic, but has become a permanent program,” said Griffin. “We’ve learned through the pandemic that prepared meals have to be a critical part of the hunger fighting equation.”

Today, Minnesota is reopening, and Second Harvest is moving to do the same. Griffin said the need for food and services is still there, but has lessened since the peak of the pandemic.
Second Harvest truck.Second Harvest Heartland

For a hunger relief operation, the work done by volunteers is crucial, and after a year without them Griffin said the organization has been welcoming back volunteers little by little. The most recent development is the re-introduction of 15 to 17-year-olds to the food packing programs.

“We’re really excited to be – with safety top of mind – cautiously reopening, restarting and expanding our volunteer engagement operations.” said Griffin.

Second Harvest hasn’t yet reached pre-pandemic volunteer capacities, but is looking to the future with the normalcy that’s been returning. The organization announced their virtual fall fundraiser, Dish: Cuisine for Change, happening on Sept. 23, 2021. The goal for the event is to fund approximately 2.5 million meals, and Griffin encouraged the public to contribute in any way they can.

“There’s a role all of us can play in the hunger fight, and we can help folks take that step, wherever they’re at,” said Griffin.

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I bounce between Madison, WI and Minneapolis, MN, and I'm partial to reporting on education, the arts and entertainment, but I'm open to pursuing any worthwhile story. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in May of 2021, with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Spanish, and currently work at UW's Communications department as their video intern!

Madison, WI

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