Food shelf sees few signs of recovery

One way to judge if we’re in a recovery is to see if things are improving for Minnesotans struggling the most. If you’re looking from Sue Estee’s vantage point, it’s clear we are not there yet.

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Estee runs the Second Harvest North Central Food Bank, serving Grand Rapids, a regional hub, and small towns, including Bovey, Coleraine, Calumet and Cohasset. The number of households seeking the shelf’s help jumped 13 percent between the first nine months of 2008 compared to the same period in 2009.

“We expect the trend to continue at least until next spring sometime. It will take a while for an improving economy to trickle down,” Estee, a source in MPR’s Public Insight Network, told us recently.

We asked her for more detail. Estee gave us a view on the needs in her part of Minnesota, where the jobs picture is improving but unemployment in August was still in double digits. She’s seen a big jump in new households seeking help and evidence more people are moving in with family or friends

The most startling statistics are a 15% increase in the numbers of adults, (not seniors or children) coming for help. This indicates that there are more people affected by the economy, likely job loss or cuts in hours…people who were getting by on their own prior to this economic crisis.

Other rural food shelves, she adds, have not seen big increases. That may be because some needy people may have moved away from the very small communities, she says. Getting to the food shelf is also a problem in rural areas, she adds. And then there’s the stigma.

The volunteers at the food shelf are likely to know you or your family. Especially for the newly poor, due to job loss, shame will keep people from coming for help. We had one mother last week who only had some packets of instant oatmeal to feed her 3 kids that week. She wasn’t eating at all. (She left with a lot of food!)

The fierce independence that has driven many to live up in the woods also keeps them from asking for help when they need it. Children particularly suffer hunger when the parents can’t bring themselves to admit they need help providing enough food.

So far, she says, her food shelf has met the increased needs and she gives a nod to the 2007 Farm Bill, which she says made more commodities available to food banks in Minnesota. “It couldn’t have come at a better time.”

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