ST. PAUL — As the coronavirus pandemic drags on, along with it widespread economic repercussions, more and more Minnesotans have turned to food shelves and banks to help put food on the table.

On Wednesday, July 8, the Governor's Office announced that an additional $12 million in emergency funds will go to the state's 300 food shelves and seven food banks to help with increased needs during the pandemic.

Ahead of their funding announcement Wednesday, Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan toured the Department of Indian Work's food shelf — the only culturally specific food shelf in the area. Housed in the basement of a small white building on St. Paul's Summit Ave., the walls of food shelf are painted a sunny yellow, adorned with traditional Ojibwe and Dakota prints so patrons "feel at home."

Shelves and refrigerators are stacked with produce, meats, dairy and pantry items, as well as vital household and sanitary items —including, in the age of COVID-19, hand sanitizer and cloth face masks. One basket was stocked with bundled sage for traditional Native smudging rituals. Now, with many patrons utilizing delivery or contact-less pickup, one room is stocked with pre-made bags and boxes full of food, labelled by household size.

According to the governor's office, approximately 300,000 Minnesotans have visited food shelves since the start of the pandemic, up 30% from before. Minnesota's seven food banks are distributing about 2.4 million pounds of foods across the state. The state Department of Employment and Economic Development reports that over 843,000 Minnesotans have applied for unemployment benefits since mid-March.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Walz said Wednesday that the additional $12 million — which comes from federal CARES Act assistance — will help food shelves and banks meet Minnesotans' increased needs in 2020, which he said "takes a lot of coordination and a lot of commitment." With the $12 million, in addition to regular allocations, the state is now offering a total of $75 million in assistance to food banks.

"It makes it very difficult for families in the time of COVID to find any security, any sense of peace, when the world feels like it continues to spin out of control, especially if you don't know how you're going to feed your family," Walz said.

Flanagan said in hard times, it can be hard to ask for help. She said before her own family began visiting her local food shelf and utilizing nutrition assistance benefits, she remembers nights in her childhood when her mother said she wasn't hungry. Flanagan said she realizes now, years later, that there just wasn't enough food in the house.

"As we're having these conversations with folks across the state of Minnesota about the impact of COVID, I hold onto that vision of my mom skipping a meal, because that is how we need to look at all of our issues," Flanagan said. "The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated food instability across the state of Minnesota."