Community leaders set their sights on food insecurity

ACTION Park Rapids participants on Feb. 9 discussed how to inform the public about ways to keep hunger at bay.

The Hubbard County Food Shelf
Park Rapids Enterprise file photo

Food security issues were a topic of concern Feb. 9 at ACTION Park Rapids.

Bill Steen, a regular volunteer at the Hubbard County Food Shelf, noted that there are multiple resources available, including the food shelf, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and certain programs for seniors.

While there are people who make regular use of the food shelf, Steen said, a lot of people outside that group have food insecurities and either don’t know what to do or feel a stigma involved in seeking help. He asked how these services can be coordinated in a way that works.

For example, Steen said, local stores have been giving the food shelf fresh food that is getting close to its sell-by date. “So, it’s about getting it out the door quick enough,” he said.

One approach that seemed to work was sending out a Facebook announcement saying something like, “Today we have 22 boxes of bananas.”


“Now, on Monday and Friday mornings, if there’s surplus, we just put it out on a table outside,” said Steen, “and there’s a small group of people who know about it. But there are probably people who don’t know about the options to get food for their families or themselves.”

He voiced interest in looking for ways to communicate the availability of food resources for those in need. “With the right people involved, it would be an easy thing to do,” he said, such as a “Hubbard County Food Insecurity” Facebook page with links to the available services.

“There’s all of this need, but people don’t know where to go to get this information,” said Steen. “It’s a huge, huge problem.”

Community Health input

Marlee Morrison with CHI St. Joseph’s Health Community Health said the Helen’s Kitchen organization has reported a dramatic drop in the numbers of people using their weekly meals, “to the point that they’re possibly going to end that service.”

She said Community Health always promotes the meal with their WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) clients, though it has been more difficult to promote during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Morrison said the group is unsure what has caused the decline in usage – but factors may include COVID.

“They’re still doing these meals,” she said, noting that the free meals alternate between St. Peter’s Catholic Church and Calvary Lutheran Church on at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, and Heartland Express will take people to and from the meals.

Morrison said that the high poverty rate in Hubbard County was something that the most recent community health needs assessment identified as a factor impacting wellness.


She added that with the federal public health emergency set to expire this spring, people on SNAP will see a decrease in their benefits starting at the end of February, as well as changes in the insurance they’ve been able to maintain.

“I think you might see some impacts of people suddenly feeling a hit,” said Morrison, “not to mention the rising cost of food. So, services like this are going to continue to be really important, and making sure people are aware” of them – including WIC, SNAP and Helen’s Kitchen.

Meeting participants discussed posting flyers promoting the programs.

Library ideas

Mary Niklaus with the Park Rapids Area Library noted that the schools have a backpack food program for younger children, but she asked what there is for kids a little bit older.

“We are willing to have something at the library,” she said, admitting that it’s only at the brainstorming stage. “Maybe we have the counselors at the school, or maybe Kinship, or some organizations literally have coupons, that all they have to do is walk in and hand us a coupon and we will give them a bag that has a meal or two or three in them, that’s obviously not perishable.”

Niklaus said the library sees a lot of visitors who are either transient, just passing through, or recently got out of jail with no way to contact anyone, no rides, etc. “We hand out a small bag that has some food in it for them, a pair of socks and a gift card, so that they have something to get them started. We’re seeing this as kind of a next step to that.

“It’s just in the conversation stage at the moment. We’re willing to do it; we just now have to figure out the details.”


Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at or 218-252-3053.
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