Skyrocketing food prices and fading COVID-related federal family supports are combining to turbocharge demand at food shelves in the state, advocates say.
Food shelf visits rose by nearly 2 million — 53.5 percent — last year in Minnesota compared to 2021, according to officials at Hunger Solutions, a nonprofit that supports food aid efforts in the state.
It’s a “remarkable increase,” Colleen Moriarty, executive director of the Minneapolis-based nonprofit, told reporters Wednesday as she unveiled data from 476 food shelves and operations. Tribal programs were included in the count for the first time, accounting for some of the rise.
“We saw a monthly average of about almost 500,000 visits up from 300,000 in 2021,” she said.
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Leaders at one of those food shelves, The Open Door Pantry based in Eagan, said they noticed people who had stopped coming after the peak of the pandemic had returned last year.
“It's not hyperbolic to say that we're seeing the highest demand that we've seen in the history of our organization,” said Jason Viana, executive director of the organization, started 14 years ago in Dakota County.
Viana said that food shelves like his can see what’s driving demand: they distributed nearly 3 million pounds of food last year, close to their 2021 distribution, “but it cost us three times the amount,” he said, noting a lapse in government support, bigger demand and food inflation.
Moriarty said food security advocates were at the Capitol pushing for speedy passage of a state emergency food relief bill, with $5 million to feed Minnesotans in need.
“The $5 million is representative of what people need just to keep going right now,” and that’s true of nearly every community in the state, said Moriarty.
Northern Minnesota and the northern suburban Twin Cities counties had some of the biggest jumps in food shelf visits in the state, she added.
Sen. Erin Maye Quade, DFL-Apple Valley said she would push for the bill at the Capitol, noting that emergency federal benefits for families under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are set to expire next month. “We are actually reaching a crisis point,” she said.
The end of the formal pandemic emergency expected in May could also exacerbate the situation, as federal support continues to wane.
Moriarty called it a generational challenge, even bigger than the Great Recession, now 15 years ago.