The lead up to the holidays includes a lot of preparation, especially when it comes to menu planning. But for families battling food insecurity, the holidays are another reminder of what’s missing: food on the table.
According to Second Harvest Heartland, 1 in 11 families in this region don’t know where their next meal is coming from, and for families living paycheck to paycheck, the holidays simply add another level of stress.
In December, Second Harvest Heartland will distribute nearly 7 million meals to food shelves and meal programs. In fact, the nonprofit relies on end-of-year giving to help meet its goals for the upcoming year. For every $1 donated, Second Harvest Heartland can distribute up to three meals.
The holiday break also provides a challenge for families with children who rely on free or reduced-price school meals. Anoka-Hennepin Schools, Minnesota’s largest school district, is on winter break from Dec. 23-Jan. 3, leaving families with 10 school days of meals to cover on their own.
Last month, Richfield Schools made headlines after throwing away hot lunches that were served to more than 40 students whose meal balances were in debt by $15 or more. That type of "lunch shaming" isn’t isolated to the Minneapolis suburb. Stories about school lunch debt have been popping up across the country and it’s a problem being addressed by food insecurity professionals.
Lizzie Breyer is the co-chair of the Minneapolis board for No Kid Hungry, a kid-focused non-profit that works directly with Second Harvest Heartland to end childhood hunger.
No Kid Hungry works to make sure kids who are dealing with food insecurity have access to the programs meant to help them – both in school and at home. It provides kids with school breakfast, after-school and summer meals and includes an emphasis on food skills education, research and policy, and advocacy.
"Making sure kids have healthy meals is foundational to literally every other thing we expect them to do," Breyer said. "They can't pay attention in school if they're hungry, they can't do well on tests, they can't go on to the best schools and jobs, and the cycle of poverty and hunger continues. Hunger is the most basic need that has to be filled before anything else can happen."
Last year, the two major events hosted by No Kid Hungry Minneapolis raised more than $380,000 to help fight food insecurity amongst children, which breaks down to nearly 4 million meals for kids.
"The thing that amazes most people is that there's no shortage of food, and there's not even a shortage of funds for this issue," Breyer said. "It is literally as simple as getting that food and that money to the right people in the right ways at the right time. It just feels like such a solvable problem, and yet such an incredibly important one."
Ways to help in the Twin Cities this holiday season
Contribute to a school lunch program
A recent School Nutrition Association report states 75 percent of school districts in the United States are battling school meal debt. Check with your school district to find ways to help – or donate to a fundraiser like this one, raising money for Saint Paul Public Schools.
Buy gifts that give back.
Food-inspired jewelry company Delicacies donates 10 percent of their profits to Loaves & Fishes, a free meal program serving the state of Minnesota since 1981.
Locally-owned Spoonful Apparel donates 50 percent of its profits to fight childhood hunger. The company – formerly known as Hands & Feet – was started after owner Susan Elwer discovered one of her preschool students had been going without lunch for the first three months of the school year.
Since their launch in 2017, they’ve donated more than 86,000 meals to help end childhood hunger.
Another one to consider is Williams-Sonoma, which collaborated with some of the world’s biggest stars for their No Kid Hungry products – including Kristen Bell, Scarlett Johansson and Gwen Stefani – with 30 percent of proceeds going to the non-profit.
Give Your Time
Local non-profits are always looking for volunteers. And many are kid-friendly!
Second Harvest Heartland relies on volunteers. Opportunities include food distribution, sorting and repacking -- plus there is a growing need for skilled volunteers. Second Harvest Heartland also offers resources for groups and youth volunteers.
Loaves & Fishes serves meals across the state and counts on volunteers for cooking, serving and clean-up. An average shift is between two and three hours long and is family-friendly.
Turn Your Holiday Party Into A Food Drive
Hosting Thanksgiving this year? Is your work hosting a holiday potluck? Ask your guests to bring non-perishable food items to donate to a local food bank. Not sure who is serving your community? Second Harvest Heartland has two drop-off locations conveniently located on both sides of the Twin Cities.
You can also find a database of local food banks here.