Seeding Food Security

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 450,000 Minnesotans didn’t have consistent access to nutritious food. This number has been increasing year after year since food insecurity spiked during the Great Recession.

Ask any volunteer or staff member at a food shelf today and they’ll tell you the same thing: food insecurity is sharply rising again.

Second Harvest Heartland projects that food insecurity will increase nearly 60% in 2020 with more than 730,000 Minnesotans struggling to secure food for their families. The data suggests that this number will peak in the fall.

In fact, we’re expecting to see a hunger crisis reminiscent of the Great Depression.

Food Market drive up pick up

What is food insecurity?

According to the USDA, food insecurity is a lack of access to enough food to lead a healthy, active life for all members of a family. In addition, food insecurity refers to uncertain access to quality, nutritionally adequate foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Finally, a factor that is also important to consider is that families have access to foods that reflect their culture.

How is Neighborhood House addressing food insecurity?

Food Support Program Manager Georgi Nguyen leads Neighborhood House’s efforts in addressing food insecurity. She oversees the two Food Markets at the Wellstone Center and Sibley Manor Apartments. She also oversees the Fresh Produce Pickup Program and the SNAP and NAPS outreach programs. Along with 8 other staff members and various interns, AmeriCorps members, volunteers, and senior aides, the food support team is working hard to meet the needs of the community, particularly during the pandemic. (Read more about the Food Support program.)

What are some barriers that families face?

Many families live in areas without any full-service grocery stores. In addition, driving, biking, walking, and bussing are not always available to everyone, particularly to seniors and people with disabilities. This creates many barriers to getting food each week. Neighborhoods like these without easy access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food are called food deserts.

How does Neighborhood House work to best serve the community?

Georgi shares her commitment to the families we serve. “As a team, all our work is about putting participants first. All the programming, and any changes that we have ever made to the programs, are influenced by feedback from participants.”

The Fresh Produce Pickup events, for example, were created in 2013 based on community needs. “Participants expressed that they only got produce from Neighborhood House. And that they couldn’t afford it or access it where they lived. That is truly the foundation of why this program was created.”

Although our food markets stock fresh fruits and vegetables, the Fresh Produce Pickup events were designed to supplement food market shopping and reach families in food deserts who weren’t able to or struggled to visit our food markets.

Fresh Produce Distribution - Wellstone51

Why do food deserts exist? Who is responsible for food insecurity?

Many families who live in food deserts live at an intersection of marginalized groups based on race, class, and migration status.

The existence of food deserts can be traced back to times when racial segregation was part of city-planning. Policies created by White people, like policies that created racial segregation in the Twin Cities, have a multitude of oppressive outcomes, including food insecurity and food deserts.

What are some current solutions to this problem?

A true solution to food deserts and food insecurity would be no easy task. It would involve major changes on a governmental level and taking a strong stance on the right to food.

But for now, food shelves and other food support programs are major players in addressing food access. They not only provide food to those living in food deserts, but they provide food to families who are struggling to afford enough groceries—and try to do so in a way that allows families to maintain their dignity.

“One value and practice that we have is about creating a safe and nonjudgmental space. The idea of needing to ask for support or to use a food shelf can feel really demeaning for a family,” says Georgi. “We try to make sure that their shopping experience restores that dignity to them. For example, certain features like choosing their own foods and providing shopping carts make it more like a regular grocery shopping experience.”

FoodShelf2020-101

What are a few long-term strategies Neighborhood House is looking at?

As we are likely to see demand increase even more into 2020 and beyond, Georgi would like to see upgrades to technology and larger storage spaces in the markets. This would allow us to serve more families and to serve them more efficiently. But she dreams bigger, sharing about her goal of Neighborhood House becoming more involved in public policy work, giving us a seat at the table where we can advocate on a governmental level for our participants.

How can I help my neighbors with food access?

As a community organization, we rely on community members to help us meet the needs of our neighbors. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftereffects, we need your support. You can expand access to fresh, healthy foods for thousands of families in St. Paul. Make a donation today or sign up to volunteer at one of our Fresh Produce Pickup events.

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