Helping our neighbors
Remember your local food shelf this holiday season

Recently, Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker made headlines when he decided to try living on just $33 worth of food in an effort to understand the plight of Americans who struggle to live on food stamps.

The media event was designed to highlight the difficulties that some families face during a time when many of us are stuffing ourselves full of rich holiday meals and snacking on cookies and candy.

Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, made the same point by helping host the sixth annual hunger relief fundraiser this week in St. Paul. The event was started six years ago to assist Iron Range food shelves which were having trouble keeping their shelves stocked into the holiday season.

Each of us can make a difference, too, by including a donation to our area food shelves in our Christmas gift lists this season.

A slow-recovering economy, a feeble job market and rising fuel prices have combined to increase food shelf use. According to the most recent Census Bureau report, the number of people living in deep poverty is the highest its been since 1975. Minnesota is one of 20 states that had a 20 percent or greater increase in the poverty rate (defined as an income below $22,350 for a family of four), from 2007 to 2010. During that same period, Minnesota’s median household income fell by five percent.

The hardship is especially acute in the Arrowhead Region, where nearly 24 percent of the population experienced a food hardship. Overall, there were 249,062 visits to the 65 food shelves in the Eighth Congressional District from January through August 2011. More than 75,000 of those visits were by young people under age 18, a double-digit increase over visits by youths for the same period in 2010. Senior visits are also up by at least 20 percent and adult visits climbed more than 30 percent.

Food shelves help fill the gap for people whose income doesn’t stretch far enough to cover the grocery bill. The average amount distributed amounts to a three-to five-day supply of food per person in the household. People are limited to one visit a month.

Many of those affected are the working poor, those who hold jobs but don’t earn a living wage. New legislation that started last November recognized this fact by opening access for more low wage-earners to qualify for food support. The income limit was changed from 130 percent of the poverty index to 165 percent. It also opened up more than $4.5 million in new Food Support grants available to assist food insecure households.

Ultimately the aim of the grants is to position people to better recover as the economy improves. Instead of forcing folks to spend down their savings in tough economic times, the aid provided through Food Support makes it easier for them to bounce back into the middle class upon re-employment and keeps people from falling into deep or chronic poverty.

The efforts of Bakk and others to alleviate the hunger pains of Minnesotans are admirable. They’re reaching out to folks who need a hand up, not a hand out.

This season, remember those less fortunate and write a check or drop off a bag of groceries at your local food shelf. Your contribution could be the difference between someone being stuck in grinding poverty for life or helping them ride out a rough patch until they can get back on their feet once again.

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