Second Harvest Heartland food bank supplies 80 million meals a year to the hungry. Out of a crammed-to-the-rafters warehouse in Maplewood, its 30 trucks shuttle 50 million pounds of food to regional food banks from Rochester to Crookston. Food shelves across the state depend on Second Harvest for three-fourths of everything they hand out.
This time, it's Second Harvest that needs the help. In 30 years, it has gone from distributing 1 million pounds of food a year to 100 million — all out of a facility that is no bigger. A growing emphasis on fresh meat, dairy and produce has been welcomed by hungry families, but the bulky items take up even more space and require special handling. During harvest time, aisles are spilling over with corn, tomatoes, green beans and all the bounty Minnesota farmers can produce. Needed donations are turned away for lack of space in a warehouse designed for shelf-stable products.
That's why Second Harvest has launched a $50 million campaign for a desperately needed new facility that would allow it to do even more to meet a bottomless need for nutritious food. It's asking the state for a bonding contribution of $18 million. The rest is being raised privately — including two generous donations contingent on state funding.
It's disappointing that so far this worthy project of statewide value has surfaced only in the House Republican bonding bill. Senate Republicans have not yet released their bonding proposal, even though adjournment for the legislative year looms, and Gov. Mark Dayton, after expressing support for the project last year, inexplicably left it off his proposal. On Tuesday evening the governor's office did release a statement in which Dayton expressed full support for the project, thanked House Republicans for including it and urged the Senate to do the same. That support comes late in the process, but shows some movement in the right direction.
"We've never gone to the Legislature before," Second Harvest CEO Rob Zeaske told an editorial writer. "This is a once-in-a-generation investment. We're asking just for what we need, and not until we need it."
With a bigger facility, he said, "we could double the distribution of fruits and vegetables in the next five years." Some of the greatest need is in rural Minnesota, where small food shelves lack long-term storage capacity and depend on regular shipments from the food bank.
The Second Harvest project is one that the Legislature and Dayton could hold up as an accomplishment with a bigger return on investment than many that have passed through the State Capitol. Hungry Minnesotans would give thanks.