United Way of Northeastern Minnesota (UWNEMN) is once again sending financial support to every food shelf in the region.
The organization will distribute $30,000 among all local food shelves this month in observance of Minnesota FoodShare Month.
Started in 1982, the FoodShare campaign has grown into the largest grassroots food and fund drive in Minnesota with the goal to restock supplies in food shelves across the state at a time of year when contributions typically slow down the most. The campaign includes matching dollars to donations made to food shelves – which is why UWNEMN has made annual contributions to food shelves each March for the last 20 years.
“Not only is it important to us that donor dollars stay local, it’s important that we maximize the impact each dollar can make,” said UWNEMN Executive Director Erin Shay. “Our region’s food shelves are vital to the health of their communities, so the more support we can give them the better.”
According to the Department of Health, Minnesota ranks 43rd in the nation for its residents’ access to healthy food. Minnesota has fewer grocery stores per capita than most states with over 200,000 Minnesotans having to travel more than 10 miles to reach a larger grocery store or supermarket.
UWNEMN is no stranger to travel barriers; the organization provides financial support to 42 nonprofit agencies in the region and operates programs like Buddy Backpacks, Imagination Library, and United for Veterans for individuals and families across northern St. Louis County, western Itasca County, and all of Koochiching and Lake of the Woods counties.
“Our service area is comprised mainly of spread out, rural communities, and the people we serve are the most vulnerable in those communities,” said UWNEMN Community Impact Coordinator Michelle Lampton. “That means often the people who need our agencies and programs the most are also the most likely to be homebound or not have access to reliable transportation, so the more local food shelves are the better for those in need.”
Beyond geographic challenges, inflation is another major contributing factor to the importance of local food shelves.
“When people need to choose between spending money on food or basic needs like medicine or gas, the options are slim,” said Shay. “By supporting our local food shelves, we can help close the gap in food equity to ensure that all Minnesotans have equal access to healthy food.”
The highest in demand items at food shelves can vary, but helpful options include canned fruit and vegetables, cereal, condiments, jelly, oatmeal, pasta, peanut butter, rice, and soup. Food shelves can also accept household items like soap, feminine hygiene supplies, and pet food; local food shelves say these items don’t stay on their shelves long.
Hunger and food access are targeted issues in UWNEMN’s investment plan which steers how donations made to the organization are invested in the local community. In addition to the annual support of food shelves, donations to UWNEMN support partner agencies like Second Harvest Food Bank – which provides food to all the local food shelves – and UWNEMN programs Buddy Backpacks and Meet Up and Chow Down.