volunteers handing out food at outside distributions

Our Stories of Giving and Receiving Help

cars and people lined up for food distributions

“They say change is hard, right? But when you’re forced to do it, you find a way.”

That’s how Tom* recently assessed Second Harvest Heartland and the entire hunger-relief network’s response to COVID and surging hunger. But he also was referring to the responsibility he saw for himself in the hunger fight.

After seeing photos of long lines at food distributions and reading that 1 in 8 Minnesotans are facing food insecurity, Tom couldn’t turn away from the acute need.

“My wife and I took a philosophical look at our giving. We always give to community, to kids. But we asked ourselves where we could help right now. How we could help keep people safe and fed. We needed to look reality in the face and force action,” Tom explained of their decision to make a first-time gift to Second Harvest Heartland this spring.

With supply chain and business acumen plus a handful of food bank volunteer experiences, Tom knew Second Harvest Heartland is efficient, effective and nimble. He also knew that a large gift to a large food bank would mean immediate and direct distribution to food shelves and people in the greatest need. Since his first gift in the spring, and as the pandemic and hunger persist, Tom has made two additional large gifts.

Meanwhile for Joelle*, this year has been nothing but hard changes and forced decisions.

She estimates the number of meals she served to others to be in the hundreds of thousands. That was all before she needed to ask for help filling her own table. “My whole career has been spent in restaurants and I loved everything about it. Lighting the candles while the sun went down on a cold winter night. We made our space beautiful so people could really feel welcome and the food, well, the food I’ve served over the years has been so exceptional.”

But six months into the pandemic, Joelle had burned through her savings. “My restaurant closed, I have a kid in college and tuition to pay, and the money just evaporated. Unemployment just wasn’t enough. I kept hoping things would get better, noticing my balance go down and down and down, on the money I thought would be my retirement savings. I knew it wouldn’t be a lavish retirement, but I thought I’d volunteer, spend a week up North every year. That’s all I wanted and now it’s gone.”

To at least supplement her grocery expenses, Joelle attended an emergency grocery pop up at Minneapolis’ Powderhorn Park in August, and she’s been a regular guest at the weekly distributions since.

“The first box made me cry and the last box made me cry. I pretty much cry every time. Someone has really thought about what you’d need to have a healthy week. There are veggies in that box, really high-quality staples, too. It’s kept me afloat. When I have groceries in my house, I can keep going. When I don’t, I feel left behind. It’s comforting, the help being given.”

“You know that I’ve worked since I was fifteen years old, meaning I’ve paid taxes for thirty years. I have a college degree and even built up a nice nest egg. I did everything right, but hard times don’t care who you are. They can come for any of us.”

*Tom and Joelle’s names have been changed to respect their privacy.

Volunteers handing out food

It will take each of us giving and receiving help to get through COVID and come out stronger on the other side.