County leaders to tackle hunger issues

Published 2:15 pm Thursday, August 19, 2010

By Trey Mewes

Community members met Wednesday afternoon as part of a presentation on ending hunger in Mower County within the next three years.

The presentation, sponsored by the United Way of Mower County, is the first of several presentations given across the state as part of an initiative to end hunger in Minnesota.

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Hunger-Free Minnesota is a soon-to-be-launched statewide initiative that proposes to end hunger within three years of its start by providing 125 million additional meals annually to low income residents. The initiative will try to do so by encouraging more eligible people to apply to food assistance programs, increasing the amount of donated food throughout the state and utilizing public nutrition programs for children.

“Hunger creates a lot of problems,” said Cynthia Shaffer, executive director for local food shelf and food bank Channel One, Inc. “And there are a lot of problems that create hunger.”

Shaffer said Wednesday’s meeting was to help create interest in the initiative, which Channel One, Inc. is a part of. While Hunger-Free Minnesota hasn’t officially launched yet, it will continue to hold meetings across the state to build a network of organizations and people to deal with hunger amongst poverty-stricken residents. In the future, Shaffer and the organizations behind Hunger-Free Minnesota hope to create a community leadership board which will create and then carry out campaigns in Mower County that follow Hunger-Free Minnesota’s strategies towards ending hunger.

According to research done by the Boston Consulting group for Hunger-Free Minnesota, about 6,376 out of 14,200 eligible Mower County residents participate in food support programs, specifically the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Because SNAP is a federally funded program that’s administered by counties throughout Minnesota, any money set aside for the program that isn’t used goes back into federal funds. By enrolling more people in the program, Hunger-Free Minnesota hopes to use money already set aside to help feed more needy people.

“There are many more people in our community who are eligible who aren’t getting (food support),” said Mandi Lighthizer-Schmidt, executive director for the United Way of Mower County.