Minnesota students struggle to access food over the holiday amid high demand at food shelves

Rob Williams loads a truck with non-perishable food at The Sheridan Story.
Rob Williams loads a truck with a pallet of non-perishable food at a warehouse in 2019. Williams says the Roseville organization now known as Every Meal is having trouble keeping up with demand even as it serves thousands of Minnesota students.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News file photo

One Twin Cities program that provides food for children while school is out on break says it can’t keep up with the demand.

The Roseville-based organization Every Meal serves close to 12,000 students in 450 schools around the state with a waitlist of 154 schools. But the organization doesn’t have the funding to meet that demand. In the past, it ran a winter break program to distribute food to families who needed it. Without more money, they’re unable to run the program this year.

“Unfortunately, our organization, Every Meal, no longer has the ability to fill that gap because of the cost of food,” said its president Rob Williams, who also says there isn’t enough government assistance to help feed students over holidays.

“While many of us are excited about the meals that we do get to have at home with our families and with loved ones, there’s lots of kids out there who don’t look forward to winter break because of that instability of food access that they experience,” Williams added.

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More Minnesotans are going hungry than ever before.

Derek Reise runs the St. Louis Park Emergency Program, where record numbers of local residents are coming in to use the food shelf — many of them for the first time.

“We’ve definitely seen a significant increase in community need for food services this year. When you look at the last few months of our food program, the number of visits of people served is up over 50 percent from a year ago,” Reise said.

It’s the same with food shelves across the state, where Reise said organizations similar to his are struggling to keep up with demand.

“Whether they’re in Minneapolis, in the suburbs or rural areas, we’re all seeing the same thing, which is a significant increase. And it’s all different demographics of people,” Reise said.

Families with school-aged children are over-represented in the populations Reise sees at the food shelf.

“A lot of people who are coming to us for assistance have never needed assistance before. So they’re not used to accessing help. They’re unfamiliar, it’s kind of uncomfortable for them,” Reise said. “A lot of our work is trying to make it as easy and clear as possible in terms of how to access certain services because many people are coming to us for the first time ever.”

Right now, Reise said his organization has been able to keep up with demand, but he’s not sure if they’ll be able to continue meeting needs at the current pace or see an increase.

“I promise you [there are] kids in your neighborhood that are facing food insecurity and don’t have enough food in their cupboards at home,” Rob Williams said, adding that donations to food shelves helps.