Demand for groceries is up at food shelf serving American Indiansby Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio
Around the state people who keep tabs on food shelf use say demand has doubled over the past few years. And even though donations of money and food are up the donations aren't keeping pace. At the Division of Indian Work food shelf, money shortages have forced them to cut staff, reduce hours and limit the number of visits people can make.
Minneapolis, Minn. — A woman who gives her name as Sue uses her cane to balance herself as she climbs the stairs at the Division of Indian Work food shelf. In her other arm she carries a free Christmas bag of groceries.
Sue says she's a social worker temporarily out of work. She's recovering from back surgery and a stroke.
Like hundreds of others this holiday season she's come to the food shelf on Lake Street to pick up groceries being given to American Indians.
Sue says after years of being a social worker where she was the person extending help, she finds it hard to accept help.
"(I feel) kind of guilty, I guess, because I'm used to being on the other side of the fence and now it's like I've really got to swallow my pride to do this," she says.
The Division of Indian Work food shelf in south Minneapolis has been around for more than 50 years, making it one of the state's oldest. American Indians make up half of the private non-profit social service agency's staff. The organization supplies a range of services for families besides the food shelf in partnership with the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches. The food shelf alone serves more than 24,000 people a year.
The staff and volunteers have packed hundreds bags of groceries, each one containing food for a Christmas meal and a coupon for a turkey or a ham donated by a Minnesota supermarket chain.
A woman picking up one of the bags says her name is Anita. She says her family of nine children relies on her husband's income. Anita's voice trails off as she says there's not enough money to pay all the bills.
"Can't put nothing away because we've always got this, and this, and another one comes and another bill comes and something happens, something breaks down..."
Division of Indian Work staff say there are hundreds more requests for help this year compared to last year. Food shelf manager Todd Parisien says they'll give away 650 bags of food this Christmas.
Parisien says the new year will brings changes. A drop in corporate donations, he says, is forcing reduced food shelf operations.
"The clients used to be able to come in once a month and now they're going come in every other month. We're going to be closed on Friday and we used to be open five days a week. Just the services we provide are really starting to go down because the money is just not there any more," he says.
Corporate donations are down because of mergers or companies moving their headquarters out of state, according to Toni Collins, the agency's board of director's chairwoman. She says donations may also be down because people believe reservation gambling revenue is taking care of more American Indians.
"(That's a )misconception, big misconception that every reservation is like Mystic Lake or Treasure Island - they're the casinos - and there's not a need. But there's a need among the children, there's a need among the elderly because they are not members of those tribes," she says.
Advocates say the solution for ending hunger among all Minnesotans regardless of ethnic background is the federal government's food stamp program. Government statistics show nearly one-third of the people eligible for food stamps in the state aren't getting them. In some Minnesota counties up to 80 percent who are eligible aren't getting help.
Colleen Moriarity, Executive Director of Hunger Solutions, a Minnesota group which lobbies on behalf of the state's nearly 400 food shelves, says pride and red tape get in the way of people getting help.
"A lot of elderly people just feel very strongly about not taking what they consider welfare. I think the other thing is that it's part of the common form a 16 page form," she says.
The revised Minnesota form for people seeking either food stamps or other emergency help is now 21 pages long. Moriarity says more outreach workers are needed to help people complete the paperwork.
The staff at Division of Indian Work in Minneapolis help people navigate the bureaucracy for food assistance and other services. All the Christmas food bags were handed out last week.
This week the staff turn their attention to collecting and donating toys for kids. They also prepare Christmas bags of candy, fruit and nuts for area churches to give to American Indian children.
- Morning Edition, 12/18/2006, 6:50 a.m.