‘Record numbers’ turn to area food shelves
Rising need is part of statewide trend
MARSHALL — The Kitchen Table Food Shelf had just opened for the day. But on Friday, there was already a line of waiting people that stretched out the door.
Busy days have become more common at area food shelves, said Lori Lerohl, volunteer coordinator at the Kitchen Table.
“We opened for the first time this year on Wednesday, and we had 54 households,” Lerohl said.
United Community Action Partnership has seen growing numbers of clients at its area food shelves over the past year, said Nikki Knobloch, food and nutrition manager at UCAP.
“In the four food shelves we have, we are seeing record numbers at all of them,” Knobloch said.
The growing number of people visiting food shelves is a statewide trend. Minnesotans made more than 5.5 million visits to food shelves in 2022, and the number of visits in 2023 was likely more than 7 million, according to anti-hunger organization Hunger Solutions Minnesota.
Last year, Minnesota state officials have allocated millions of dollars in funding to help food shelves with the increasing need. In February, a bill providing $5 million in emergency funding for food shelf programs was signed into law, and the state legislature also approved $7 million in one-time funding to expand or renovate food shelves in Minnesota. In November, Gov. Tim Walz announced that $5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds would be allocated to Minnesota’s seven regional food banks.
Workers at food shelves in southwest Minnesota said this week that they’re still seeing increased numbers of people in need of food.
“Between January 1, 2023, and the end of December, it’s almost doubled,” Lerohl said of the number of clients at the Kitchen Table Food Shelf. “Last year we saw almost 11,000 people,” in more than 4,000 households, Lerohl said. “In 2022 it was 6,800 people.”
In 2023, a total of 367 new families registered at the Marshall food shelf, Lerohl said.
Knobloch said UCAP has food shelves in Marshall, Tracy, Westbrook and Heron Lake/Okabena. All have seen growing numbers of clients.
“We are seriously overwhelmed right now,” said Roger Raschke, at the Pipestone County Food Shelf. The number of people accessing the food shelf in Pipestone started rising in 2021, due to factors like rising inflation and the end of COVID-19 food benefits.
Between 2021 and 2023, the number of people served by the food shelf has gone up to a total of more than 14,000 individuals, according to data from the food shelf. In 2023, there were 733 new households that registered with the Pipestone County Food Shelf.
On average, households visited the food shelf 4.9 times in 2023, compared to 4.2 times in 2019.
Although the Pipestone County Food Shelf was seeing rising need among clients, Raschke said the organization was looking forward to moving into a new facility in a couple of weeks. “There’s lots of work to be done before the first (food) distribution in the new facility,” he said.
Knobloch and Lerohl said the four UCAP food shelves are seeing increased numbers of small families or single clients, as well as more senior citizens. The reasons why clients come to UCAP’s food shelves varies from person to person, they said. Some might have lost their job, or recently moved to southwest Minnesota. “We were getting a lot of people moving into the area from the Twin Cities area,” Lerohl said.
However, the rising cost of living, and the end of the pandemic increases in food assistance benefits, both had a definite impact on area residents, Knobloch and Lerohl said.
“The cost of groceries is insane right now. It’s hard for anybody,” Knobloch said.
The combination of rising costs and need also pose challenges for food shelves.
“If numbers are still increasing like this, we’re going to need to do fundraisers,” Lerohl said.
Knobloch said it’s possible that the recent increases in food bank funding from the state would benefit UCAP’s food shelves, through its partnership with Second Harvest Heartland. Second Harvest is able to get food items from different manufacturers and producers and distribute them across Minnesota.
At the same time, Knobloch and Lerohl said local community partners are crucial supporters for the Kitchen Table Food Shelf. Donations, grant funding, and food and equipment provided with the help of area businesses all help keep the food shelf running.
“I’d say most of it is local,” Lerohl said. The Kitchen Table works with Hy-Vee, Aldi and Walmart in Marshall to do food rescue. Businesses like Schwan’s, Archer Daniels Midland and Performance Foodservice also help support the food shelf, as do school, church and community groups.
“We couldn’t do it without them,” Lerohl said. “They’re taking care of their neighbors – that’s what we like to tell them.”