Live United: Need for food services is expected to rise next month

Published 8:09 pm Friday, July 24, 2020

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Live United by Erin Haag

Erin Haag


Summer is rolling right along, with the school year looming right around the corner. My family and I have done our best to live in the present, setting aside anxiety and worry about the future for now. We’ve gone on bike rides and learned how to make homemade ice cream. The garden was planted, sprinklers are on every hot day and rainy days are movie nights on the couch.

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Our garden is coming along. So far we’ve canned 16 quarts of beans. I’m fairly sure that we will break our record of 28 quarts in a season. We planted two different kinds this year, and my husband wishes he kept better records. One type is thriving. The other type has some sort of white mold on it and doesn’t look good at all. As always, when I look over my garden, I think about the food in our community.

Food insecurity has been a major focus since the pandemic. From United Way of Freeborn County providing seniors with grocery delivery, to the schools and Parks & Rec partnering to provide meals for the kids — to navigating the changes for meal sites at Loaves and Fishes, Trinity Lutheran and Salvation Army and the delivery mechanisms for SEMCAC and Meals to Go. Then of course, the pop-up pantries that United Way of Freeborn County partnered with Channel One Regional Food Bank to provide food boxes to families.

It’s all about the food. Food insecurity is what puts families into survival mode. When you’re in survival mode, it’s hard to see past the immediate concern to work to break the cycle. It’s even a joke. “I’m sorry for what I said when I was hangry.” When my son would be acting out, my husband and I would speak in code. “We need to take care of Betty White,” referencing the old Snickers Commercial. Sure enough, give the boy a snack and his world was right-side up again, much to mom and dad’s relief.

Many don’t have the luxury of that joke. In Freeborn County, we have an estimated 8.5% of our population experiencing food insecurity. That’s over 2,000 people! Two thousand people going hungry? Not if I have anything to say about it. Let’s feed people, so they can concentrate on making a better life for themselves.

Across the state, those dealing with food access are anticipating that the end of August and into the fall will see an increase in the need for services. There’s a variety of reasons why it’s this timeframe, but we see the wave coming. United Way of Freeborn County has been working on some plans to anticipate the needs in our community, and as we know more about what happens this fall, we’ll be able to implement them.

For now, we’re hosting our monthly pop-up pantries through September. They’ve proven to be popular in our community, and the dedication and spirit of the volunteers with the American Legion and American Legion Riders and the Hayward Lutheran Church members in a pouring down rain speaks to how much our community can come together. I’m really hoping that the third time’s the charm and it won’t be raining on Friday, July 31, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Albert Lea Family Y. Yes, my garden needs the rain, but I’m hoping that Mother Nature will agree to  do that beautiful rain overnight that day.

I’ve already had phone calls asking about the pop-up pantry food. While I don’t have the details for the next one yet, I’m excited to see the quality fresh food that will be provided. Our June pop-up had quite a bit of food. Each household was able to receive a box of protein, which consisted of chicken sausages, chicken hotdogs and a rasher of bacon. They also received a box of produce, which had 10 pounds of potatoes, a bag of onions, a large bag of carrots, a bag of apples and a bag of oranges. Families then received their choice of a box of cheese (variety box) or two half gallons of white and chocolate milk.

Knowing that families are receiving good, quality fresh foods, from the same brands that I would feed my own family gives me comfort as I garden.

We’re actively looking for volunteers for the pop-up pantry on July 31 at the Albert Lea Family Y. Distribution time is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., but volunteers are used throughout the morning and afternoon to set up signs, direct traffic, help breakdown the site and more. If you’re on our list already, United Way of Freeborn County will be calling. (Yes, Brad, I’d love for you to help). If you’d like to help that day, give the office a call at 507-373-8670.

Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.