With fall here and winter approaching, food shelves in Scott and Carver County are preparing for what they anticipate will be a busy end of the year.

Food insecurity has heavily impacted Minnesota over the past decade, and this dilemma has worsened since the start of the pandemic.

Minnesotans made over 3.8 million visits to food shelves last year — a new record high for the state, according to 2020 statistics from Hunger Solutions Minnesota, a nonprofit organization centered on combating food insecurity in Minnesota.

PREPARING FOR HOLIDAYS

Food shelves in Scott and Carver counties are finding creative ways to serve the community as the holiday season nears and 2021 reaches a close.

In November, the Jordan Area Food Shelf provides turkeys, potatoes and a bag filled with other traditional Thanksgiving dinner sides. This Thanksgiving, the Jordan Area Food Shelf is also hosting its third annual Turkey Trot event, where participants run or walk a three-mile trail and raise money for the food shelf.

Next month, the food shelf will stock up on hams and other typical Christmas and winter holiday fixings for people to prepare meals.

As the weather gets colder, the food shelf also donates winter coats and blankets to its visitors in need. It also is looking into the ability to give Christmas presents to kids this year.

Tanya Velishek, executive director of Jordan Area Food Shelf, said she tries to be creative in providing to the community around the holidays.

“We do multiple different things during the holiday season … [because] it’s not just about feeding the community,” Velishek said. “It’s also giving them something to look forward to in the spirit of the holidays.”

A TIME OF GIVING

Like Jordan Area Food Shelf, the CAP Agency’s food shelf also puts holiday baskets together around the end of the year.

Jackie Lara, CAP Agency’s director of nutrition and community services, said the Scott County community often donates holiday-themed foods in fall and winter. The food shelf receives most of its turkey and ham donations around this time, and many people donate holiday sides like stuffing and potatoes.

“It’s through that community support, those donations and the generosity out there that really makes these things happen,” Lara said.

According to Lara, the CAP Agency sees an increase in families served beginning in September and even more heightened numbers in November and December.

This finding aligns with data compiled last year by Hunger Solutions Minnesota. The organization’s findings show an increase among food shelf visits after September, with numbers generally reaching a high for the year in the last three months.

According to Hunger Solutions Minnesota Executive Director Colleen Moriarty, food shelf numbers often rise at the end of the year as transportation becomes more difficult and access to farmers markets and personal gardens disappears.

While visitor numbers increase around this time of year, all three food shelves noted donation numbers surge as well.

Majority of food provided by the CAP Agency is either purchased or donated through local food banks, according to Lara. She said more food drives and donations happen around this time from families, schools and faith-based organizations.

“It’s the time of giving, and people want to help out and give back,” Lara said.

Bountiful Basket Food Shelf in Chaska serves eastern Carver County by preparing holiday meals for families and using its mobile food programs to the fullest extent. Much of the food preparation and organizing is done by volunteers.

This year, the food shelf is working with Love INC and local churches to deliver 250 turkeys and supplemental holiday food bags to families in need. Volunteers also help out at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Chaska every year to debone turkeys ahead of the church’s annual Thanksgiving meal.

The food shelf is working with nonprofit organization Humanity Alliance this year, where volunteers prepare, cook and deliver meals to families primarily in Carver County. In this partnership, 200 additional turkeys and food bags will be prepared for families.

Bountiful Basket also partners toward the end of the year with Fare for All, a low-cost, grocery purchasing program. $15 vouchers will be provided to visitors to purchase food at Fare for All.

Providing assistance to those in need is something Bountiful Basket Board Chairman Tom Redman said can alleviate worries for families around the holidays and year-round.

“If we can provide [families] with healthy food, they can use their resources for other things, whether that be medical, transportation or housing,” Redman said. “We can take a lot of that worry away from families.”

Redman and Velishek also see increased food and monetary donations at their respective food shelves.

Moriarty believes these acts of generosity are common in Minnesota during this time of year.

“We live in incredibly generous communities in the state of Minnesota, and people are very generous in the holidays to food shelves,” Moriarty said.

Ahead of Hunger Solutions Minnesota 2021 data release, Moriarty said this year’s overall visit numbers are getting back to pre-pandemic levels from 2019. She largely attributes this drop to the implementation of government programs and assistance over the past year, like free and reduced school meals.

While decreased visitation numbers are encouraging, Hunger Solutions Minnesota’s findings still show Minnesotans making millions of food shelf visits annually.

Moving forward, the three food shelves are prepared to continue helping Scott and Carver County residents for the rest of the year and beyond.

“In a pandemic, time of need, jobless or whatever, sometimes people just need that extra hand to get them to the next week,” Velishek said. “I find it really important to be able to help meet those needs.”

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