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Minnesota Legislature

Bill could help expand and create new mobile food shelves

Whether following an established route or responding to a crisis, mobile food shelves help get food to the people who need it, but otherwise wouldn’t have any access.

HF1049, sponsored by Rep. Hunter Cantrell (DFL-Savage), would appropriate $1 million in Fiscal Year 2020 for mobile food shelf grants and require Hunger Solutions, a St. Paul nonprofit, to award these funds based on program priority.

The House Health and Human Services Policy Committee approved the bill Wednesday and referred it to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Sen. Scott Jensen (R-Chaska) sponsors a companion, SF356, which awaits action by the Senate Human Services Reform Finance and Policy Committee.

HF1049 would “really help reduce barriers” for Minnesotans in need by renewing a 2015 appropriation, said Peter Woitock, government relations specialist for Hunger Solutions.

Half of the appropriation would be used to sustain or expand existing programs and the other half would be used to create new programs. Grants would be capped at $25,000 for existing mobile food shelf programs and $75,000 for new programs. Any money left at the end of Fiscal Year 2020 would be available for use in Fiscal Year 2021.

Mobile food shelves can swiftly respond to changing community needs. For example, they were able to move in and start feeding people after the recent federal government shutdown left many Minnesotans without paychecks, and when a small town lost its only grocery store in a fire, Woitock said.

They also can reach people who may not otherwise be able to access food shelf services due to illness, disability, age, or a lack of transportation.

The Open Door, the only mobile food shelf in Dakota County, serves more than 6,000 people every month at more than 20 sites. But it still has a waiting list, including schools and senior centers, said Jason Viana, executive director of the organization.

The need for mobile food shelf services is only expected to increase as the state’s senior population continues growing, given access issues impacting the elderly, testifiers said.

An Open Door mobile food shelf location in an Apple Valley senior living facility serves more than 50 seniors a month. When it opened, it was a particular relief to one of the residents, who was one of few people in the building with access to a car and previously had to pick which of her friends could accompany her to the food shelf each month, Viana said.

“Do you know how hard it is to pick which of your friends eats?” he recalled the woman asking.

Programs would be prioritized for funding that:

  • serve unserved, underserved, or high-need areas;
  • are expanding an existing program or creating a new program;
  • have evidence of strong support from residents and other community institutions;
  • leverage other public and private funding sources; and
  • commit to maintaining the program for multiple years.

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