Stabilizing Hungry Families

How does food make a difference? It improves almost everything in someone’s life: from health and learning to parenting, employment and mental health.

Food means brain power: Boosting kids’ ability to learn

Smiling School ChildrenImagine driving a car with no fuel. That’s what kids experience when they don’t get enough to eat before they come to school. Children who suffer from poor nutrition during the brain’s most formative years score much lower on tests of vocabulary, reading comprehension, arithmetic and general knowledge. The Minnesota Cost/Benefit Impact study shows that kids who have enough to eat during the day concentrate better, act out less and have improved academic performance over time. How do we help kids have the food they need?

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Food is fundamental for learning in the Minneapolis Public Schools, where more than 65 percent of all kids are on free and reduced lunch, and many also eat breakfast at school. Once school’s out for the summer, these kids don’t have access to their usual meals and worry about when they’ll eat again. 

With a grant from Second Harvest Heartland, Bertrand Weber, Minneapolis Public Schools Director of Culinary Services, converted an old truck and took meals on the road. He served lunch to kids every day of the week during the summer in under-resourced areas of the city as identified by Community Close-up research sponsored by Hunger-Free Minnesota. “Going mobile was the best way to reach kids who might be missing meals during the summer,” he says. “Food not only keeps them energized but helps them stay healthy and ready to learn in the fall.”

Nutritious food choices result in better health

Family Meal Mother DaughterA diet that includes fresh fruit and vegetables provides important nutrients and health benefits for children and adults alike. The 2014 Hunger in America study from Feeding America tells us that in Second Harvest Heartland's service area, 35 percent of client households have a member with diabetes and 44 percent have a member with high blood pressure — both significantly higher than the general population. Unfortunately, fresh foods are out of reach for many families that are food insecure because of cost or access. How do we provide more nutritious foods to more people?

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Second Harvest Heartland continues to bring more produce and fresh food choices to our agency partners in response to client demand. In fact, approximately 53 percent of the food we provide to our agency partners is fresh, and we now offer more choices of fruits and vegetables than ever before.

Our expertise in working with farmers and growers to capture excess produce through our Share Fresh program has helped boost the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables available to hungry families. Many clients at VEAP Food Pantry (a Second Harvest Heartland agency partner), have health issues. Access to fresh produce is essential for their nutritional needs, says Nathan Rust, VEAP program manager. If it weren’t for the fresh produce available here, they would go without, since they can’t afford these items at local stores.

Food improves quality of life for seniors

Senior man wearing hatSeniors are the fastest-growing segment of people using food shelves, although many seniors stay hungry instead of asking for help. They worry about the stigma and shame about being hungry, and don’t want to take food from others they feel need it more. How do we reach this proud yet vulnerable group of people?

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Seniors on a fixed income often make a trade-off – buy food or medicine, pay for food or electricity – which has a negative impact on both their health and quality of life. Many Second Harvest Heartland agencies, such as Western Community Action in Marshall, Minn., offer congregate dining, social and holiday events, and promote nutrition programs such as SNAP (also known as food stamps) and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) to get more food to seniors and also increase outreach to this important, often hidden group of hungry neighbors. Seniors know how to make something out of nothing, and will go without rather than ask for help, says Margaret Palan, who manages food activities at Western Community Action. We want to assure them that there are resources out there that they qualify for, and that by accessing CSFP food they are helping themselves and their communities, too.

Having enough to eat saves money for all of us

Hunger costs Minnesota at least $1.6 billion per year due to the combination of lost economic productivity, more expensive public education because of the rising costs of poor education outcomes, avoidable health care costs and the cost of charity to keep families fed.

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