Food Help is Just the Beginning
When Elizabeth Johnson joined the CROSS team five years ago as their Executive Director, she was surprised to learn about the need in the community. Nestled in the northwestern suburbs, CROSS serves Champlin (West), Corcoran, Dayton, Maple Grove, Osseo, and Rogers communities. Are there really families going hungry? Struggling to make ends meet?
Elizabeth dug into income levels, demographics and so much more to learn about the communities CROSS served. What she learned surprised her. The reality was that of many of the “hidden hungry” in the suburbs of the Twin Cities. The cost of living is high, incomes don’t necessarily match it. More than 7,000 households are well below the income levels needed to meet basic needs, but CROSS was only serving 1,200. There’s limited access to public transportation and a population that’s aging rapidly. In other words, the need and the opportunity to do more was there.
Today, CROSS reaches about 45-50 new families each month thanks to new strategies and programs helping them connect with the community in a different way.
“We have 23 sites for school mobile distributions, a Kid pack program providing food for kids over the weekend,” shared Elizabeth. Knowing there’s an aging senior population, CROSS has also increased outreach to seniors.
A key driver in helping inspire people in need in the community to move past the pride associated with seeking assistance is the availability of fresh food, especially produce.
Supported through the partnership with Second Harvest Heartland CROSS collects Retail Food Rescue regularly at nine different store locations within their service area, nearly tripling the amount of available produce for their clients. This additional food and produce has led to expanded service through:
- Expanded mobile distributions across their large service area – CROSS is using Hunger Genius data to choose sites in high need areas for additional expansion
- Encouraging clients to access food from the Food Shelf whenever they need it instead of only once a month
- Expanding their food shelf location hours to best meet the needs of working families.
“The obvious reason produce is so important to the people we serve is it’s healthy,” Elizabeth said.
“People in the area are more willing to come to the food shelf because of the produce,” Elizabeth explained. “Seniors especially are concerned about the waste element, with the perishable food, they don’t want it to go to waste so they have a willingness to put pride aside come to the food shelf.”
Produce is attracting people to the food shelf that would’ve never visited before. Once families and individuals connect with CROSS for the first time, the opportunity to deliver additional, supportive services arrives. For the staff and volunteers at CROSS it’s not just about the number of people they serve, it’s about their stories and how they can provide help, beyond the food shelf. Mike and Sarah’s story is an example of just that.
When Sarah came in for food, her husband Mike had lost a good job just five months prior. The family was struggling to get by while looking for another job that could keep the family afloat. They had a special needs child which made their financial situation even more complex. During their assessment, after working with CROSS' family advocate, it was determined they qualified for waiver services through the county.
A personal care attendant was provided to come into the home to assist their child allowing the family to have more employment access options. The family was also connected to Hennepin County for temporary monthly cash and food support (SNAP). CROSS provided two months of rent to stabilize the housing crisis and prevent further eviction proceedings.
Mike and Sarah came to CROSS for supplemental food for several months to continue stabilizing their bills. Recently Mike was offered four employment opportunities and the family is back on their feet, housing secure. CROSS gave them the connection and support they needed while going through this unemployment crisis period.
Second Harvest Heartland works with nearly 1,000 partner food shelves, pantries and other meal programs every day to reach the one in 11 Minnesotans who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Most of these partners are local food shelves, just like CROSS.