Do you know who’s hungry in the Greater Twin Cities? It may not be who you think. It could be your kid’s best friend who goes hungry during the summer when school’s out, or your elderly neighbor who’s on social security. It could be the working suburban mom who skips dinner so her kids can eat or your company’s college intern who is filling up on ramen noodles because it’s cheap.
It’s probably many people you wouldn’t expect.
What’s the problem?
In the Twin Cities region, we have much to be proud of. Yet, for many of our neighbors, the daily challenges of poverty are disturbing.
One in four people are experiencing poverty in the Twin Cities. People in poverty are also likely experiencing food insecurity- uncertainty about where their next meal is coming from. In the nine-county metro area, 13% of children under 18 are food insecure. Seniors are another age group experiencing hunger in high numbers- senior visits to food shelves increased 39% over a recent four-year period in Minnesota. Overall, emergency food center usage has doubled over the past five years, rising to nearly two million visits during 2016.
What’s the solution?
At Greater Twin Cities United Way, we want our community to be an equitable place where all people, regardless of their situation, have access to healthy, culturally relevant food so they are physically and emotionally nourished and can reach their full potential.
Your generous gifts and donations help those who are facing food insecurity today through a spectrum of solutions like strengthening emergency food centers, building stronger community food systems, and promoting and maintaining critical federal nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP.) We must do this all while understanding and addressing root causes of hunger and poverty to help people be food secure tomorrow.
SNAP provides nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities. However, there are community members who are eligible for the program, such as new Americans who don’t always understand the process to enroll, which makes outreach and education about the program essential. At Greater Twin Cities United Way, we are helping to increase utilization of this program by providing SNAP outreach grants to partner agencies to help more than 116,000 people annually with referrals to long-term food support.
Who Needs SNAP?
Our neighbors who are getting an education
Let’s take the case of our neighbor Martin.* As a single father to a six-year-old daughter, he was trying to improve his family’s life by seeking an education. However, as a full-time student, Martin was relying on his student loans and scholarships for his tuition and to support the cost of living. Unfortunately, he was barely able to make ends meet and struggled to keep food in the house. Martin had applied for SNAP assistance in the past but was denied because the form was incomplete. Through local agency partner Keystone Community Services, Martin received assistance in completing the application and verification documents and was approved for benefits for himself and his daughter.
Just having support to walk through the process of applying for assistance programs can make a world of difference for families in need.
In Martin’s own words, “I have great appreciation for Keystone and the support and guidance they provided me. I needed help, and they were there for me.”
Our neighbors who are seeking employment opportunities
Then there is the story of Hani*, who was living alone in Dakota County and working part-time trying to find a full-time job Even though she had a job she struggled to put food on the table along with paying her rent. She was connected with an agency partner Community Emergency Services, who helped her apply for SNAP. Since Hani doesn’t speak English, the agency had a worker who spoke her native language explain the application process so she could complete the forms accurately. Soon, Hani was receiving monthly SNAP benefits which allowed her to eat breakfast every day in order to stay energized during her search for a full-time job.
“Falling short can happen to anyone,” Hani said, “but you can prevail if you have some help.”
Our neighbors who find themselves in unfortunate circumstances
Take the case of William* who lives with his wife and three kids in Carver County. He had an unfortunate accident where he slipped and fell on the ice, breaking his leg and preventing him from working his construction job. The family couldn’t feed five people as well as pay the bills, so they called our agency partner Community Action Partnership (CAP.) CAP did a home visit with William so he could apply for SNAP, since it would have been difficult with a broken leg for him to apply in person. The family received food support benefits and bought perishable items they couldn’t obtain at the local food shelf they also visited. Within a few months, William’s leg had healed, he was back at work, and once again the family could make ends meet with his income.
“I don’t know if I would have made it through without SNAP and assistance from this agency,” William said.
For families working long days and earning low wages, SNAP helps stretch their budget and provides access to fresh, perishable food at local grocery stores who accept the benefits. SNAP also helps workers who have fallen on tough times through no fault of their own to get by on a temporary basis. When you can put food on the table, you can get back on your feet more quickly.
GTCUW works to leverage resources to partner with nearly a dozen community-based agencies to do important SNAP outreach, education, and coordination to help people access this important lifeline. These stories are only the tip of the iceberg for those in our community who are experience hunger. They are families and students, immigrants and workers, friends and neighbors. They are our community.
How can you help?
We all have the potential to help reduce the burden of hunger and poverty, so our neighbors have food on the table, a roof over their head and gas in their car to get to work. United, with our resources, dollars, voices, and time, we are powerful and can help make the Greater Twin Cities a place where everyone thrives and reaches their full potential.
Give – Your support will make an immediate difference for people experiencing food insecurity.
Volunteer – Help assemble kits including snack packs, weekend meal kits, pantry staples, and kitchen utensils at our Feeding Who’s Hungry event on June 7 at Land O’Lakes in Arden Hills.
Advocate – Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or reach out to your representative or senator to let them know of your concern with the House Farm Bill, which would affect SNAP, taking away food from families, workers, and those in between jobs.
In the words of the late President Nelson Mandela, “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”
Please join us by donating, volunteering, or advocating this Spring so that no one in our community goes hungry.
*Names have been changed
Alyssa Banks is a Program Manager in Community Impact at Greater Twin Cities United Way where her work is focused on food security. She has nearly 10 years of diverse community-based experience working in Minneapolis Park and Recreation, local nonprofits and the City of Minneapolis. Banks holds a master’s degree in Public and Non-Profit Administration from Metropolitan State University and a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies from the University of Minnesota. She is a gardener, food lover and advocate and proud Minnesotan.