December 7, 2023
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$5 million in leftover federal COVID funds going to Minnesota food banks ahead of holidays

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Gov. Tim Walz’s administration will send $5 million in extra federal COVID relief funds to food banks as the demands at local shelves continues to soar.Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and advocates working to end hunger on Monday celebrated the influx in money at Second Harvest Heartland in Brooklyn Park, which will use the boost to support local partners across the state. The funding will allow them to buy more food to send to the food shelves at no cost to them.”We have heard that the number of families is increasing dramatically who need access to food. This seemed like the right time, especially as we’re approaching holiday season,” Flanagan said.It comes as visits to food shelves are on pace to hit seven million by the end of this year, which is up from an unprecedented five million last year, according to Jodi Harpstead, commissioner of the Department of Human Services. The boost is from Minnesota’s share of the American Rescue Plan COVID rescue funds.She cited the cost of groceries and expired pandemic-era safety nets as contributing to the demand in assistance. But the high price of food is hitting the organizations fighting hunger, too—their dollars don’t go as far as they once did when buying products in bulk from food banks or other partners.


Cassie Kienbaum, director of food support programming at Neighborhood House in St. Paul, said her organization is spending an additional $7,000 a month to keep supply stocked to meet demand.

“We find that on a regular basis, we do not have enough food on our shelves to respond to the number of families who are seeking help,” she explained.

Food shelves were once an emergency service but are now becoming a commonly used lifeline, she added. The state legislature earlier this year passed an extra $5 million in one-time funding to support food shelves and advocates would like to see more support next year when they return.

“How we address hunger from this moment forward will have a huge impact on the health and well being of our state,” said Allison O’Toole, CEO of Second Harvest Heartland.

PRISM in Golden Valley, which offers a range of assistance, spends $36,000 a month stocking its food shelf. But with inflation, it “simply doesn’t get as much food as it used to,” executive director Michelle Ness told WCCO in an interview Monday.

Visits there have increased by 54% compared to last year. Numbers are higher than they were during the peak of the pandemic.

“We’re seeing the numbers of families visiting the food shelf go up, but our purchasing power even through the food banks has gone down,” Ness said. “So we’re really excited about this announcement and hopeful that it will result in some more food for us to be able to provide directly to families.”

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