Second Harvest awarded grants to help improve the health of area residents

The Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation Annual Grant Cycle needs people working behind the scenes to evaluate and administer all requests and awards. For many of the endowments, the Community Impact Committee, comprised of community and board members, research, score, and evaluate requests to determine grant awards.

“I am honored and grateful to have such a great committee,” says Sarah Copeland, Director of Grants and Programs at the Community Foundation. The Community Impact Committee at the Community Foundation includes Julie Wilcox (Chair), Jim Lamke, Kathy Dodge, Mary Jo Gibbons and Linda Gibeau. “This year, we also had new board members, Kristian Myers, Amy Trast and Isaac Meyer who were exceptional in their commitment to community impact, and donor intent. The input and insight from all of our members is wonderful.”

One of the organizations the committee awarded provided a total of $14,250 in grants to Second Harvest North Central Food Bank,” says Copeland. “The Food Bank’s hard work and commitment to helping serve our area residents who suffer from food insecurity and health issues helps to stabilize lives and improve long-term outcomes.”

Stabilizing lives and improving health

The Grand Rapids Food Shelf provides food to more than 2,500 individuals per month, primarily to people living in the Grand Rapids Area. Distributed food includes a broad range of non-perishable foods and fresh whole foods as well as specialty items for individuals who face a range of health issues including high blood pressure and diabetes. The purpose of the program is to help low-income individuals in the Grand Rapids Area who suffer from food insecurity and health issues. According to the report Hunger in America 2014, the population served by Second Harvest and its food shelf face significant health challenges. The report states that: “In more than half (59 percent) of client households, at least one member has high blood pressure. In 38 percent of client households, at least one member has diabetes.”

According to Susan Estee, Executive Director of Second Harvest North Central Food Bank, the high rates of illness among the low-income population in the Grand Rapids Area illustrates the significant disparities and barriers that need to be overcome to stabilize lives and improve long-term outcomes. To help do this, Second Harvest has turned to non-traditional sources for food collection such as retail grocery food rescue and local gardens. In the first case, Second Harvest collects food that is donated by grocers or other food retailers. Donated food consists of products that are close to the sell-by date but are still safe and nutritious. Items such as produce, meat, and dairy are removed from the retail shelves and frozen or refrigerated until picked up several times each week by Second Harvest. Private and community gardens have become a second non-traditional source for food collection. These gardens (as well as farms), along with the retail food rescue program, are increasing the amount of certain types of nutritious, whole foods that are available at the Food Shelf. There is an ongoing need, however, to make other types of food available, particularly for people with diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Such foods include rice, beans, whole grains, and other low-sodium, high-fiber alternatives. Such foods are not currently available to Second Harvest through its other sources. The grant will be used specifically to purchase these types of food for distribution at the Food Shelf.

The Food Shelf was awarded $4,000 from the Edgar and Hannah Hetteen Fund at the Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation.

Delivering food to isolated, rural communities

“Second Harvest’s mobile pantry delivers nutritious food to isolated, rural communities that aren’t large enough to support and sustain their own permanent food shelf. Specifically, each month, the mobile pantry delivers food to the communities of Inger and S Lake. These two communities have a high degree of need, but few local resources. They also have high rates of disease such as hypertension and diabetes”, notes Estee.

Because of high poverty in rural north central Minnesota, food insecurity is a significant issue. According to Feeding America, the food insecurity rate in the seven-county area was 11 percent (more than 23,000 individuals) in 2016. For children, the rate was nearly 18 percent (8,000 children). The purpose of Second Harvest’s mobile pantry is to efficiently and effectively provide nutritious foods to low-income individuals living in outlying areas such as Inger and S Lake.

The mobile pantry is operated by Second Harvest staff and volunteers who pack food and load the truck. The truck delivers the food to the community centers in Inger and S Lake where additional volunteers unload the food and manage the distribution to families and seniors. The mobile pantry serves approximately 150 households per month. Over the course of a year, nearly 80,000 pounds of food are distributed.

The Second Harvest mobile pantry was awarded $4,000 from the Edgar and Hannah Hetteen Fund at the Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation to purchase nutritious food for distribution in Inger and S Lake.

Feeding children – Kids-Packs-To-Go

Second Harvest's Kids-Packs-to-Go Backpack Program provides nutritious foods that require little or no preparation to children who are at risk of hunger during long weekends and school vacations. The packs are distributed monthly at schools with high levels of children living in poverty in Itasca, Aitkin, Cass, and Crow Wing counties. Each pack contains three to five pounds of food and an age-appropriate handout about nutrition.

The purpose of Kids-Packs-to-Go is to help address food insecurity among children who live within Second Harvest’s 7-county service area. Nearly 18 percent of children in the region live in a food-insecure household, according to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap 2016. In addition, many schools in the region report free-or-reduced-price-meal eligibility of over 50 percent. Some schools report as high as 80 percent.

According to Estee, “The problem of hunger isn’t one merely marked by the occasional discomfort that comes from a stomach that has been empty for too long. Scientific research has shown again and again that people who are food insecure on an ongoing basis are disproportionately affected by chronic diseases including diabetes and high blood pressure.”

Research also shows that food insecurity can be particularly devastating for children. When a child doesn’t receive enough nutritious food on a regular basis, serious implications for his or her physical and mental health, academic success, and future well-being begin to manifest. The many damaging consequences can include delayed development; risk of chronic illness like asthma and anemia; behavioral problems like hyperactivity, anxiety, and aggression; lower test scores and achievement in school; and other long-term challenges for the children, their families, and their communities.

During the 2018-2019 school year, Second Harvest will distribute a total of 27,126 packs to 3,014 children in 21 schools. The activities that are a part of the program will be completed by volunteers, schools, and Second Harvest staff.

The Second Harvest North Central Food Bank was awarded $6,250 from the Edgar and Hannah Hetteen Fund at the Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation to provide Kids Packs To-Go in Itasca County.

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