Ambitious effort will focus on aiding those who use food shelves.
With food shelves facing a record demand for food, 14 Twin Cities non-profit agencies are plotting an entirely new approach to the perennial problem of hunger.
Instead of trying to incrementally reduce hunger bit by bit, these groups want to reorganize the way food shelves work, with the goal of ending hunger altogether in the metro area by 2013.
Part of the five-year plan -- to be rolled out Thursday at a conference on hunger in St. Paul -- is to use food-shelf visits to pull clients into a web of social services that target the root causes of hunger. If it works here, they'll try to spread the concept throughout the state.
The plan also would expand food-shelf services, offering more nutritious and culturally appropriate food.
"We first talked about how to achieve a 20 percent reduction in hunger," said Marcia Fink, director of basic needs for the Greater Twin Cities United Way, which is coordinating the effort.
"But we looked at each other and said, 'Why should we put up with this? Let's really tackle the problem.' We have rich resources in this community. There's no reason for children, or anybody else, to go hungry."
Implementing the plan will cost money for equipment, expanded space and more staff and volunteers, said organizers, who are still working out those details. They likely will approach the Legislature and other funders by 2009.
900,000 visits and growing
About 200,000 people in the Twin Cities area -- half of them children -- need donated food to get by for now. "But what they really need for the long haul are jobs, housing and health care," said Renae Oswald-Anderson, vice president of community building at Neighborhood House in St. Paul.
"We intend to make our food shelves not just better providers of more food, but centers that help people climb out of poverty," she said
People in need made nearly 900,000 visits to the Twin Cities' 200 food shelves last year -- an increase of 160,000 in five years. They took away 22 million pounds of food. Both figures are rising, "and still we turn people away," Fink said.
Increasingly, clients are families and immigrants from Latin America, Asia and Africa.
And more are showing up in the suburbs, including Curt Hendricks, 44, of Coon Rapids, who on Tuesday visited the Blaine food shelf operated by the Community Emergency Assistance Program.
"I try not to use it too much because lots of people need it more," Hendricks said. An out-of-work trucker after he lost his driver's license two years ago, Hendricks said he has been sober since then and often works odd jobs. He will be among speakers at the conference Thursday.
'Food insecurity' rises
In Minnesota, the percentage of people experiencing "food insecurity" rose from 7.6 percent in 1996-1998 to 8.6 percent in 2003-2006, according to a survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nationally, USDA estimated that 35 million people were in the "food insecurity" category.
In most cases, people can visit a food shelf once a month and get three days' worth of food per family member.
The problem is a national one, and several other cities, including San Francisco and Portland, Ore., have embarked on similar end-hunger campaigns. A study this summer led by Harvard researcher J. Larry Brown estimated the cost of hunger at $90 billion a year in preventable illness, poor school performance and charitable food programs.