Food trucks are an increasingly popular way for restaurateurs to serve their customers these days, but could that same business model work for food banks who serve the needy?
Things could be going that way in Minnesota, and one organization dedicated to eliminating hunger in the state has taken a major step toward making it happen.
Hunger Solutions Minnesota is giving $1 million to 17 pantries to help them get a new "Mobile Food Shelf" program rolling, according to a news release from the group.
The concept of "food trucks" for the needy – which Hunger Solutions calls "the latest innovation in food access" – is not just a novelty or gimmick.
"We’re finding more and more people are unable to get to their local brick-and-mortar food shelf either because it’s too far away or because they are elderly, sick, or disabled and can’t travel to a physical site," said Colleen Moriarty, the group's executive director. "Bringing the food shelf to them makes sure that they are able to access the nutritious food.”
The food banks sharing the million-dollar grant are spread out across the state, with some serving huge areas in the Twin Cities, central Minnesota, and the Northland.
Each pantry is receiving tens of thousands of dollars to help them get their mobile food shelves up and running, and it turns out the food truck concept is attractive to charitable organizations for the same reason it's attractive to the restaurant industry.
"Mobile shelves are less expensive to get up and running than building a new physical location, and since they can go anywhere, they are much more flexible in being able to meet the changing needs of the people they serve,” Moriarty said in the release.
So, where is that $1 million coming from? According to the group, it's part of an "appropriation by the Minnesota Legislature in 2015," with "another round of funding" coming next year.
The new mobile program is coming at a good time. Hunger Solutions says 2014 saw an increase of nearly 100,000 Minnesotans in need of food donations.
According to a recent report by the group, it's because Minnesota lost its waiver in 2013 "to enroll able-bodied adults without dependents between ages 18-49 in SNAP (a government food assistance program) for longer than 3 months."
This forced "89,000" individuals to turn to the "strapped network of community based food shelves for help," Hunger Solutions says.