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Monday, August 20, 2012

First-of-its-Kind Food Access Summit in Minnesota This Week

John Michaelson, Public News Service-MN

(08/20/12) DULUTH, Minn. - With food shelf use in the state at a record high, Minnesota is stepping up its efforts to increase access to healthy food for the poor. A first-of-its-kind Food Access Summit will be held this week (August 21-23) in Duluth, bringing together local food activists, direct service providers, the public health community, and others involved with food and nutrition.

Christine Pulver, basic needs program director with Keystone Community Services, says there is a segment of Minnesotans who are hungry for the long term.

"But at the other end we're also seeing new people come into these programs who have never needed help before in their lives. And those are the families that are most difficult to serve, because there's a lot of pride that's getting in the way of using the services they need."
One issue of focus at the summit will be getting more senior citizens to access food programs. It's estimated that less than half of those eligible for SNAP benefits - what used to be known as food stamps - are enrolled, and Pulver says seniors can be a group that's hard to reach.

"The response that I've had from a number of seniors is they don't want to utilize the program because they want that to go to families with young children. And you want to say, 'Here you've come to a time when you yourself need it. Why not access it?'"

Pulver says another current challenge is making sure young people who are struggling with finances and finding shelter are getting nutritious meals.

"We're seeing an increase in the number of homeless youth. And those kids need a more welcoming environment when they're served in nutrition programs. They need food that's easy to prepare, and access to other services, because they're quite an at-risk population."
Pulver says that often, as things get better for those who just need help short term, they turn around and become donors themselves to various food programs. Currently, 500,000 Minnesotans access SNAP benefits monthly.
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