CHUM Food Shelf works to combat hunger in NorthlandEntering the CHUM Food Shelf on First Avenue West in Duluth, Stacy Bak sets down a box of canned goods and makes her way to the window of the old storefront.
By: Julie Krienke, For the Budgeteer News
Entering the CHUM Food Shelf on First Avenue West in Duluth, Stacy Bak sets down a box of canned goods and makes her way to the window of the old storefront.
As she sits down in one of the open chairs scattered throughout the room, she gazes outside. She gathers her thoughts as she recalls the years she came to this food shelf regularly after moving to Duluth and becoming homeless shortly after.
“The food shelf has helped me over the years because food stamps didn’t always go very far,” said Bak, who stayed at CHUM’s Emergency Shelter for nearly a month following her move to Duluth four years ago.
“I had gotten in with the wrong people, and it all came crashing down because of alcohol and health issues. The food shelf helped me get those steady, nutritious meals that I needed.”
After staying at CHUM’s shelter and couch surfing for several years, Bak was able to find permanent housing. She continued to receive support from the CHUM Food Shelf during this time, eventually deciding to give back by volunteering several times a week, packing and stocking food.
To provide nutritious and stable meals to its clients, the CHUM Food Shelf relies largely on donations. During the month of March, all food and financial donations made to the CHUM Food Shelf are matched by the Minnesota FoodShare Campaign.
Meg Kearns, director of the food shelf, said to provide nutritious meals to clients, it is critical that the food shelf receive fresh produce as well as a steady supply of non-perishable food items. Serving nearly 1,500 people every month, CHUM sees how important it is to provide these healthy meals to clients because of the work that is done by the organization’s on-site clinic.
“Working with the CHUM population, we see people who have diets that are high in carbohydrates and sugar because those are cheap sources of food,” said Shari Flesness, coordinator of the clinic and a registered nurse and social worker. “Getting fresh fruits and vegetables is difficult because they are so expensive. The poverty diet is not a healthy diet.”
Flesness said her position at CHUM is to provide information to those who are homeless or living in poverty and refer them to area health-care agencies depending on their needs. Spending a great deal of time just listening to clients, Flesness is aware of the health implications that result when an individual does not have an adequate and nutritious diet.
“A high percentage of our clients deal with obesity, and many are either borderline diabetic or diabetic,” said Flesness, who added that many of CHUM’s clients have mental illness or addiction issues. “So, not only are they struggling with a limited income, but it’s one more thing to have to deal with on a daily basis when they have an insecure source of food.”
Not only does inadequate nutrition affect weight and emotional health of those who are living in poverty, but getting access to dental care can also be difficult. Flesness said that many of CHUM’s clients have poor oral health and that many need extractions even by age 20, making it difficult for them to eat fruits and vegetables such as apples and carrots.
“I see it in infants as well as adults,” she said. “It’s not uncommon to see parents giving their kids Kool-Aid and junk food because it’s cheap and they lack the knowledge of dental care. It also affects a child’s ability to do well in school when they haven’t had a good meal.”
Because CHUM sees the effects of not receiving a nutritious diet on an individual’s health, its food shelf works to provide those who are homeless and living in poverty with adequate meals. Kearns said the goal is to provide clients with well-balanced food that will supply them with five breakfasts, lunches and dinners.
Kearns said the food shelf receives much of its produce from the food rescue truck, which is operated by the Second Harvest Food Bank.
“The food rescue truck goes to various grocery stores, collecting produce that they’d like to donate to local food shelves,” said Kearns, who’s worked at CHUM for 16 years. “Today, they brought us strawberries and some nice fruit trays.”
Not only does the CHUM Food Shelf receive produce from the food rescue truck, but during the summer months, fresh fruits and vegetables are brought in from the local community gardens. Kearns said the food shelf also works to educate clients about how to prepare nutritious meals.
The food shelf has worked with local college students on various projects such as making signs about nutrition to hang in the food shelf and creating step-by-step instructions on how to prepare meals. Flesness said it’s important for organizations like CHUM to focus on nutrition because it is often difficult for those in poverty to focus on.
“It’s the reality of most people’s lives who come to us for food and shelter that nutritional advice is going to be far removed,” Flesness said. “Until their lives are more stable, it’s one more thing that they have to worry about.”
For more information on the CHUM Food Shelf, visit www.chumduluth.org/ chumfoodshelf.
Julie Krienke is a communication assistant at CHUM.