The economic recession, high food costs and rising unemployment are among the reasons why more Minnesotans visited food shelves in the first quarter of this year, compared to the same period last year, according to a report released Wednesday by a statewide hunger relief organization.
In its quarterly review, Hunger Solutions Minnesota estimates there were more than 614,000 food shelf visits in the first four months of this year --- a 28 percent increase from 2008, according to the report.
Of that, an estimated 237,000 were visits by children, the report said.
"The need for hunger relief in Minnesota is critical," Hunger Solutions Minnesota's Executive Director Colleen Moriarty said in a statement. "The increase in child hunger is one of the economic benchmarks that drives HSM to increase access to safety-net nutrition programs."
In the report, Hunger Solutions recommends expanding free meal eligibility so children from households with incomes up to 185 percent of the national poverty line can receive meals at no charge. The group also recommends creating universal free breakfast.
Approximately 40 percent of school lunches served in Minnesota are free or reduced, according to the report, and officials believe food shelf visits for families with children receiving these meals will likely spike in the summertime when kids are out of school.
Minnesotans at risk for hunger can call the Minnesota Food HelpLine at 1-888-711-1151 for help with the food stamp program and referrals to emergency food assistance in their area.