Suburban food shelf use up

Annette Poeschel
Annette Poeschel, who manages Intercongregation Communities Association (ICA) foodshelves in Excelsior and Minnetonka. She shows off plans to build a new food shelf in Minnetonka.
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Stawicki

Annette Poeschel manages food shelves in Excelsior, and another in Minnetonka. As teams of workers sort donations ranging from cereal to canned vegetables, Poeschel says she's seeing a variety of people who need food. Some have been laid off and can't find replacement jobs that pay as much as their old positions.

Minnetonka ICA food shelf.
Minnetonka ICA food shelf.
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Stawicki

"We do have some families that had worked for Northwest as mechanics that had lost their jobs, and they're coming to the food shelf now and the thing is they had to downsize," says Poeschel. The group that compiled the data, Hunger Solutions, looked at the number of requests at individual food shelves from 2000 to 2005. The data appear staggering -- a 350 percent increase at a food shelf in Minnetonka; a 540 percent increase in Eden Prairie.

The question is why would suburban residents be using food shelves so much more? No one has a definitive answer, but there are theories that a combination of factors may be at play.

The consortium looked at the number of visits to each food shelf, not the number of new individuals using the shelves. So it's unclear to what extent people are using food shelves for the first time or others are just using them more often, like Deena.

Deena declined to give her last name during a visit to the food shelf in Excelsior. She says her husband, who works on garage doors, got laid off about a year ago.

ICA food shelf in Excelsior
Sorting through donations at the ICA food shelf in Excelsior, Minnesota.
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Stawicki

"I work at the movie gallery and I only work part time. Excelsior is real iffy on the full-time thing so it's a lot of part-time employment. I cashier, I put movies away. If I get more hours I'm good, but it gets rough," Denna says.

While a food shelf may be based in one city, it can serve many communities. For example, the Minnetonka food shelf serves six communities. More than half of its users come from Hopkins.

Jan Block, who's a caseworker at the Minnetonka food shelf, says she's seeing more immigrants -- Somalis, Russians, and Hispanics -- who need help. She also sees a lot of women just off welfare.

"I deal a lot with single moms that are trying to work, and suddenly they can't afford child care because of the cost. So that's a constant struggle with them. So we assist them with their food needs, paying a month's rent if necessary," Block says.

Another group that seems to need more help is senior citizens, according to Nora Davis, executive director of the Hopkins Minnetonka Family Resource Center. The center was not part of the Hunger Solutions data.

Davis says she's seen some increase in need from immigrants, people laid off from jobs, but also the elderly.

"Sometimes that's a segment of the population that gets squeezed. If they're on a regular income that doesn't go up on a regular basis, and the rent goes up or the taxes go up, it's often times the food that suffers," says Davis.

The food shelf in Minnetonka is trying to raise money to build a new building because it's outgrown its space. Annette Poeschel who manages the Excelsior and Minnetonka food shelves says the group hopes to begin breaking ground for the new building July 15.

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