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GroundWork
News and ideas you can use to strengthen rural Minnesota communities.

Taking a bite out of food insecurity

People across the region came together to support Second Harvest's mission at the Chef's Gala

sprig by Posted in Blandin Foundation, Rural Placemaking, Small Communities

On a cold January night, bidding was hot at the Second Harvest Chef’s Gala. More than 300 Itasca area people – groups of families, friends and co-workers – pooled their money and gathered together for a fun-filled evening of bidding to have their meal cooked and served by local celebrity chefs and servers.

At the end of the evening, sweet success: more than $121,000 raised to combat hunger and food insecurity throughout north central Minnesota – exceeding the event’s target by more than $35,000, and ensuring over 350,000 meals for those facing hunger.

Blandin Foundation was proud to join in the fun. President and CEO Tuleah Palmer was a celebrity server, and live auctioned a tasty array of locally-made foods: Italian porketta from the Range, Leech Lake wild rice and maple syrup, walleye from Lake Winnie, kombucha home brew and farm-fresh eggs from Bovey.

Staff, trustees, former trustees and community members came together to raise more than $23,000 for the Foundation table’s server bid, then paired that with more than $8,000 raised by folks at another table for a final bid of $31,529 to secure Tuleah as their server – breaking a gala record.

“We had a great time bringing people together regionally, and lifting Charles Blandin’s love for the spirit of harmony. It’s always good to have a little fun while we do good things with and for our community,” Palmer said.

The roots of local hunger

While gathering funds to feed local people’s needs for food is a meaningful way to give our neighbors a hand, it also points to a bigger question.

“If food bank demands are increasing, what does that tell us about the conditions in the region’s wages?” Palmer said.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s report on the northeast Minnesota economy late last summer noted that the Itasca county average annual household income was $58,393 – yet more than 44 percent of households have incomes below $50,000.

These low wages play a key factor in the number of people facing food insecurity. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, despite wage increases for some, recent spikes in costs for food, fuel and clothing, and in inflation make it even harder for low- and middle-income families in the Upper Midwest to stretch these wages to cover their basic needs.

Yet Second Harvest also has proof that most food-insecure Itasca area households work hard to stand on their own.

“When families had additional resources due to Covid relief funding, visits to food shelves in our area declined,” said Sue Estee, executive director of Second Harvest North Central Food Bank. “The signal is clear: when people can buy their own food, they do.”

In rural, remote places where transportation can be a barrier to meeting many basic needs, Second Harvest has shifted a portion of their food delivery model. Starting in the early, stay-at-home-order days of covid, they expanded the mobile food pantry program, so people in every corner of the region could easily access food. Based on how well-received and well-used it has been, Second Harvest has continued them, with 21 sites from International Falls to Onamia scheduled for March.

Staff quickly noticed that mobile pantry customers came from all walks of life, including a notable number of working-age men and seniors.

“Most of us are just one crisis away from needing help with basic needs,”
– Sue Estee, executive director, Second Harvest North Central Food Bank

“Most of us are just one crisis away from needing help with basic needs,”said Estee. “A job loss, medical bills or other unexpected expense can mean there’s nothing left in the budget for food.  More than 30 percent of our neighbors who access the popup pantries are seniors. Their fixed income can’t stretch when expenses go up so they depend on the food from the pop ups to get by.”

“Providing resources that improve the lives of working-class folks is the core of Charles Blandin’s intent for the foundation, and his vision for the community,” Palmer said. “Each of us has opportunities, big or small, to provide support. Parents who do better, have children who do better. Dignity is fundamental for a healthy community.”

So whenever you can, and however you’re able… #belikecharles. Those supports add up to making a difference now, and building up our community toward a resilient, regenerative future.

You can help!

Use this link to donate to Second Harvest. Put “Blandin Foundation blog match” in the comments/Notes.

Blandin Foundation will match all donations up to a total amount of $25,000.

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