Nearly one in five Northland children classified 'food insecure'Those children don’t always know where they’re next meal is coming from, according to a study by Feeding America.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
One out of every five Douglas County children doesn’t get enough food to support an active, healthy lifestyle, a report released on Monday said.
Nationwide, one of every four children is “food insecure” in more than 1,000 counties, said the study by Feeding America, a nonprofit focused on domestic hunger relief.
Although the numbers aren’t that dire in the Northland, the study still shows that 18.6 percent of children in Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin are food insecure, according to a news release on Tuesday from Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank. That includes 20.6 percent in Douglas County and 18.2 percent — 6,990 children — in St. Louis County.
Those children don’t always know where they’re next meal is coming from, the news release said.
“We define food security as access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle,” said Shaye Morris, the food bank’s executive director, in an interview.
In the four Minnesota counties and four Wisconsin counties covered by the food bank, with a total population of about 330,000, the report found 12,700 children lack food security, the news release said.
The study is derived from 2010 data. But according to people who work with the hungry in the Northland, the situation only has gotten worse.
“In the last six to eight months, we’ve had one big increase in population for meals,” said Al Bergren, superintendent of the Union Gospel Mission, which provides meals in downtown Duluth six days a week. “We’re seeing a lot more families, a lot more children.”
The mission is feeding between 220 and 250 people in the evenings and between 195 and 200 for lunch, Bergren said. Last year at this time it was serving 150-180 people.
In Superior, Dori Stepan was busy running the food pantry and didn’t have statistics in front of her. But she knows what she has seen. “The number’s growing every day,” said Stepan, food shelf director for the Salvation Army in Superior.
Those numbers come at a time when the economy seems to be improving, at least in the Northland. The Duluth unemployment rate in April was 6 percent, well below the national rate of 8.2 percent and a better rate for the month than at any time since before the 2008 recession.
“I’m not seeing that here,” said Nancy Leslie, program supervisor for emergency services at the Duluth Salvation Army, when asked about the growth in jobs. “Our food shelf numbers have increased dramatically. They’re going up and up every month.”
Leslie said she’s seeing more two-parent working families among the food shelf’s clientele.
“They’re just not making it,” Leslie said. “The income isn’t meeting the expenses. A lot of them don’t qualify for food stamps because they’re over the income level. But paying the rent with utilities, they’re barely making it.”
That’s the dilemma suggested by the Feeding America report. Of children in the Northland who have faced food insecurity, nearly half do not qualify for federal food assistance, the Second Harvest news release said.
Even the organizations that provide food are struggling to make ends meet. Union Gospel Mission recently had to cut staff and reduce from seven days a week to six, Bergren said.
The Duluth Salvation Army received $36,000 in Federal Emergency Management Agency money in 2010 but nothing last year, Leslie said. This year started with $14,000 in the first quarter, but Leslie hasn’t been told to expect any more.
For all the difficulty in feeding people in cities, the problem may be worse in rural areas. Of the most food-insecure counties in the United States, 61 percent are classified as rural, the news release said.
That may be because of a lack of access to food services in sparsely populated areas, Morris said. A Kids Café will open in the Damiano Center in Duluth’s Central Hillside to provide hot meals for children as soon as the school year ends, she said. Likewise, the Salvation Army’s hot-lunch program at its Lincoln Park headquarters expects an influx of children during summer vacation, Leslie said.
“When you get in rural communities and smaller towns and townships it is much more difficult to provide that same level of service,” Morris said.