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Food assistance programs struggle amid rising costs

InvolveMN provides healthy, ready-to-eat meals to unhoused and food insecure people in the Twin Cities. (Courtesy of InvolveMN)

Everyone has felt the pinch of increased grocery bills over the past couple of years. But for food assistance programs who make thousands of meals a day for the hungry, the increased costs are more than an inconvenience.

Grant Snyder works with InvolveMN, a nonprofit coalition that brings hot, ready-to-eat meals to homeless encampments. He says that providing people with proper nutrition can improve their situation immensely.

“What we see is that without adequate nutrition, [a] whole range of things happen to people. People's mental health deteriorates, people's physical health is impacted. Any pre-existing physical issues that they've got are exacerbated by a lack of appropriate nutrition. Even addiction, they've proven, is made more challenging when people are eating sugar heavy, carb heavy diets,” Snyder said.

Without access to proper food, people experience lower mental acuity, depression, and sometimes mania and more severe bipolar episodes, according to the National Institutes of Health and the CDC. Unhoused people are often forced to rely on processed foods, which can lead to dire health outcomes such as heart disease and strokes.

Snyder says the state is not providing adequate funding to ensure that people have enough to eat. According to Second Harvest Heartland, 483,000 people in Minnesota are food insecure and 25% of Black households don’t have access to proper nutrition.

“​​One of the places that came to us a couple of years ago said, ‘The state has provided us $5 per person per day for food.’ Seriously, how would you ever feed somebody three nutritious, substantial meals for $5 per person per day? So that’s the kind of thing we’re up against,” said Snyder.

Snyder says funding for food has not kept up with inflation, and as a result kitchens like Involve MN have had to swallow higher costs to make the 8,000 meals they give out per day. He credits the staff's ability and cooking from scratch with helping to cover the gap, but says in the long term that won’t be enough.

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