More head to food shelves for holiday help

A volunteer from Medtronic sorted food products at Emergency Foodshelf Network in New Hope Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2009. Emergency Foodshelf Network received help from about 45,000 volunteers last year statewide, and expects those numbers to increase this year.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Minnesota food pantries, homeless shelters and other assistance programs report an increase in need for services even as the nation's economy shows signs of improving.

The Twin Cities Salvation Army has seen a 130 percent increase in Christmas Assistance requests compared to last year, an official told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The charity had expected a 30 percent jump.

"We expected an increase ... but this is staggering," said Maj. Darryl Leedom, commander of the Twin Cities Salvation Army.

At Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, food pantry visits increased 77 percent in September and October.

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The group's Dorothy Day Center has regularly been sheltering 240 people a night, near capacity, and spokeswoman Becky Lentz said center staff worry about having to turn people away as it gets colder.

Hunger Solutions Minnesota, a statewide hunger-relief organization, said Minnesota's 300 food pantries have seen an average 26 percent increase in visits compared to the same time last year. In the Twin Cities, visits are up by 43 percent.

The Baskets of Hope program, run by the Emergency Foodshelf Network, provided 2,500 Thanksgiving food baskets for families in the Twin Cities. That's 400 to 500 more than the previous year, according to Ted Evans, a supervisor at the Network, which is based in New Hope.

Sorting food
Volunteers from Medtronic, including, from right, Jara Soete and Stephanie Knutson, sorted food at Emergency Foodshelf Network in New Hope Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2009.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Since last year, the group has seen a 40 percent increase in enrollment in its food shelf programs, and a 110 percent increase in its bulk food program enrollment across Minnesota, said Evans.

Evans said ongoing unemployment is changing the kinds of people who come to the food shelves for assistance.

"There are people who were once financially stable who, stereotypically, most people wouldn't think need help from a food shelf. But the economy is different now and people are losing their jobs," Evans said.

The EFN is not the only free food provider seeing a more diverse group of people in need of help.

"We have seen a lot of different families who, in the past, probably wouldn't have needed food assistance," said Joan Rhodes, emergency food shelf coordinator for Neighbors Inc., an emergency assistance program based in South St. Paul.

Last year Neighbors Inc. donated food to 10,647 people in northern Dakota County.

Cathy Maes, director of the Intercongregation Communities Association food pantry in Minnetonka, said she expanded the hours to be open this Friday because of the growing number of people requesting help.

"It's been busier than we ever thought it would be," Maes said. "We're here to tell you that, boy, it's hitting people you wouldn't expect."

The U.S. economy grew at a 2.8 percent rate in the third quarter of 2009, according to the U.S. Commerce Department, technically ending the recession after four straight quarters of decline. But those who bore the brunt of the downturn will likely take longer to bounce back.

"We're going to feel it long after it's over," Lentz said.


Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press,