Hunger a growing Minnesota problem

9:19 AM, Nov 10, 2010   |    comments
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Social service agencies in the Twin Cities and surrounding areas are sounding the alarm about hunger. The Twin Cities Hunger Initiative is a collaboration of 14 relief groups committed to the battle against hunger.

"It is serious," said Marcia Fink, Basic Needs Director of the Greater Twin Cities United Way. "One in five families with children struggle everyday to put food on the table. It is somebody in your neighborhood, somebody that you go to church with, some children that your children go to school with. It is very close to all of us."

In 2008, 1,171,000 Minnesotans visited food shelves. In 2009, the number grew to 1,630,000. In the first six months of 2010, food shelf visitors equaled the entire populations of Edina, Woodbury and Bloomington combined.

Although contributions to food shelves are welcome at any time during the year, Fink said there are two events in November that command special attention. First is third annual "Walk to End Hunger" on Thanksgiving morning, Thursday, Nov. 25, at the Mall of America.

"From 7 to 10 a.m.," said Fink. "It is a great event. It grows every year. We are anticipating 5,000 walkers to show up. We intend to raise $350,000 for hunger relief in our area."

The other event is a few days earlier on Nov. 19.

"It is a day of giving. It is an all-day food drive at all the Schneiderman's furniture stores in the Twin Cities area so people can drop off food items at any Schneiderman's that is located near them," said Fink.

In addition, there are community events around the Twin Cities including the "Empty Bowls" on Nov. 17 from 4-8pm.  The Cottage Grove hunger event is in the District Program Center.

A StarTribune report from Nov. 7 indicates that demand for food stamp relief is at "an all-time high." According to the report, there were 441,000 Minnesotans applying for food stamps in September, up from 381,000 in September 2009.

Fink said those facing hunger crosses all age and demographic groups. "In the recession, the numbers at the food shelves have spiked dramatically. It is still high in the urban centers, but in the western suburbs and in the eastern suburbs, they have grown even more dramatically. We have a lot of working families, families with children, who are school age, and we also have seniors who are struggling to put food on their table."

According to the United Way, seniors seeking help at metro area food shelves rose from 132,000 in 2008 to 186,000 in 2009.

Julie Kurschner of St. Paul knows the situation well. She has become a client of the food shelf at Neighborhood House on Robie Street.

"I have six children, ages 21 to 5 years. I have four daughters and two young boys. Four children are currently living at home. I had not been to the food shelf in many years. I was self-sufficient providing (for my family). I had a roof, I had a home and it was a hard call to make to come into the food shelf."

Kurschner is a single mother. She said she lost her job of 10 years through "no fault of my own" and lost her house to foreclosure. She is a student at Metro State University, very close to graduation. She said the decision to come to the food shelf for help was difficult.

"But once I got here, the staff were here to help me and talk me through my options. It was okay. It was scary, but I made it through. I don't come every month to the food shelf, but I do come when things get tough. I pretty much budget pretty well, but the food shelf does help out when I am not able to come up with the food that we need," Kurschner said.

She and her children now live in a small, well-kept townhouse on St. Paul's west side. On a recent Thursday evening, she was teaching one of her daughters to make a one-dish meal, a hearty wild rice soup with potatoes and hamburger. "Growing up, we had to eat a lot of hamburger, so I guess I know how to make hamburger 101 ways," she joked.

Armando Camacho, Neighborhood House President, knows the plight of Minnesotans like Kurschner well. "On average, we have about 38,000 people that come here to use our food shelf (each year). That is about 2,500 pounds of food per day."

For Camacho, hunger is a personal matter. "In 1980, I arrived here from Puerto Rico with my grandparents (at 6 years old) and we needed help to get settled here in the St. Paul community. Neighborhood House's food shelf was there to provide us some support until my grandparents were able to get jobs and to enroll me in school.

"Since then, we have been able to be productive in society in terms of getting jobs and paying our fair share of taxes. So, the support that we got initially, was critical to us being successful here in the Twin Cities."

In a sense, Camacho is a food shelf success story. The 6-year-old Puerto Rican immigrant became an excellent student, playing football for two years at the University of St. Thomas, and graduating from Saint Cloud State University with a degree in special education. He became a principal in a Minneapolis Public School before his present position at the helm of Neighborhood House.

Camacho sees, first hand, the problems that United Way's Marcia Fink reports. "We are seeing more people that were having six-figure incomes, very middle class, upper middle class families, that are now having to turn to the food shelf because they have lost their job during the recession," said Camacho.

"There are people that look like you and me in suits that are coming in to use the food shelf that have never had to turn to a food shelf, because they have lost their jobs," he said.

Julie Kurschner said she was one who used to be able to help others. She hopes that other people will do what they can to help the hungry. "At any given time, any one of us could be in the situation that I am currently in. So, I think it is best to have the attitude of, you know, helping another family out if you are able to do that."

(Copyright 2010 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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