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No money for food: Fresh data about families in our community

Hungry? Most of us head for the cupboard or refrigerator to rustle up some food without a second thought.
But, according to a report released today, 13.8 percent of Minnesota households last year didn’t have enough money to buy food, much less to pack it away.
Further, in Minneapolis and northeastern Minnesota, in the 5th and 8th Congressional Districts, the numbers of households experiencing food hardship in 2009 topped 17 percent. Numbers are detailed in a chart below.

Before focusing on local details, however, take note that our numbers are better than most other areas of the nation.
Only three states did better: North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa. Forty-seven others, including the District of Columbia, had sobering, higher numbers, with Mississippi topping all with 26.2 percent experiencing what is called food hardship.

Percentages of households in Minnesota by Congressional District that report they don’t have enough money to buy food

For the years 2008-2009
Source: Food Research and Action Center

In Minnesota, food needs are tempered by an extensive network of nonprofits, churches and government programs, as well as lower levels of unemployment.
What’s notable about the study, released by the Food Research and Action Center, is its timeliness — the U.S. Department of Agriculture releases so-called food insecurity numbers but the data is older and often covers three years. Also, for the first time, the new data is available for 100 of the largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) and for each Congressional District across the United States.

Compare the new numbers to a survey by the USDA for the years 2006, 2007 and 2008, which showed an average 10.3 percent of Minnesota households facing food insecurity.

Congress, take note
Gallup did the survey, collecting data almost daily from 1,000 households from January, 2008, through the end of 2009 for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index Project.
Other findings, as released to news media by Hunger Solutions Minnesota, a statewide partnership of organizations fighting hunger, shows:
In the Minneapolis/St.Paul/Bloomington MSA, the food hardship rate for households overall was 13.9 percent. But 18.6 percent of households with children reported scarcity of money to buy food.
More than 1 of 10 residents in seven of eight Congressional districts reported food hardship. The exception was the west metro 3rd District, including Minnetonka and surrounding communities.
“These new data reaffirm what we’re seeing in our local communities and provides a current, on-the-ground look at how pervasive households’ struggle with hunger have become in today’s economy,” said Colleen Moriarity, executive director of Hunger Solutions Minnesota. This is evidence, she said, that “more must be done, and quickly, to help struggling families.”
Last June, to meet the need, Hunger Solutions helped develop the Minnesota Food Helpline. “It’s easier to call us first to see if they qualify for food support program than to walk into their county office,” explained Jessica Francis, supervisor of the program and associate director of Hunger Solutions Minnesota.
Since then, more than 1,550 Minnesotans have punched in that phone number (1-888-711-1151), many of them not knowing where to turn for help, Francis said.
‘I’m so embarrassed’
Many knew of food stamps but had no idea where to go to apply or whether they would qualify, so the helpline staff asks a set of questions to determine whether a person qualifies for food aid.
“They’re calling because they’re at the end of their rope,” Francis said.
Staff can also direct callers to emergency help such as food shelves, local Loaves and Fishes programs and how to expedite applications for food aid in crisis situations.
There was, for instance, a Woodbury woman Francis talked with on a recent Thursday. She said she was a single mom who had had no income since September and only occasional child support and her daughter was coming home from school in an hour and she didn’t have any food to feed her.
So Francis ran the woman through the questions and told her she was likely eligible for food aid. It was then the caller said, “I’m so embarrassed” and yet started crying with relief.
“People don’t want to admit to themselves or anyone else how bad things are getting,” Francis said.

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Katherine Werner on 01/26/2010 - 01:04 pm.

    Just when “in the Minneapolis/St.Paul/Bloomington MSA, the food hardship rate for households overall was 13.9 percent,” Twin Cities United Way abruptly terminated its successful Hunger Project which directly supported food shelves in those communities and others! Doesn’t sound like “Living United” to me.

  2. Submitted by Rebecca Hoover on 01/26/2010 - 05:10 pm.

    The Executive Director of the Twin Cities United Way, in 2007, waltzed through the year with $278,030 in salary and $77,908 in benefits according to the organizations 990 tax form. Other executive salaries were:
    Chief Operating Officer, salary $195,407, benefits $26,561.
    Senior VP, Donor Relations, salary $155,690, benefits $20,601.
    Senior VP, Community Impact, salary $145,029, benefits $22,801.
    Director – Major Gifts, salary $120,849, benefits $21,096.
    Vice President, Finance, salary $112,951, benefits $13,555.

    I guess the UW folks aren’t exactly going hungry. It does look like we have to find a way to more carefully target assistance to hungry people to prevent all of the skimming off of the top. Colleen Moriarty makes a nice income worrying about hunger too. In 2008, Hunger Solutions paid her $83,832.

  3. Submitted by Katherine Werner on 01/26/2010 - 08:07 pm.

    THANK YOU! FINALLY! The budget for United Way’s Hunger Project was $80,00 a year and was to be a 3-year run. Marcia Fink/Community Impact-BASIC NEEDS shut it down after 2 successful years at which point the project had collected 400,000 lbs! Why? No more funding for the third/final year, she said. That’s nonsense. I managed that project and kept it UNDER budget those 2 years. (My salary was a mere half of that $80,000.) Is it possible that United Way, Inc.’s profitable role as a third party funder was threatened by such a simple, basic, economical, grassroots, efficiently run project? 13 months later I’m still unemployed and using one of the wonderful food shelves I helped support.
    . P.S. Rebecca: You forgot VP Marketing aka VP of Expensive Public Events to Make Donor Companies Feel Good.

  4. Submitted by Marsha Pitts-Phillips on 01/27/2010 - 04:06 pm.

    Greater Twin Cities United Way response:
    There are aspects of the previous three postings that must be corrected. Please note the following:

    • Greater Twin Cities United Way executive compensation is determined by our volunteer Board of Directors who adheres to high standards and considers seriously their role as stewards of community resources.

    • Re: monies invested in hunger relief efforts. United Way utilizes donor dollars to ensure the highest return on investments. It’s about results.

    • When United Way invested $80,000 in Caring Connection (the program Ms. Werner was formerly affiliated with), it resulted in 227,000 pounds of food. By comparison, when United Way invested $80,000 in a food bank, the result was 733,000 pounds of food. This is no reflection upon her efforts – simply – more food equals more hungry people fed.

    • Food calculations and poundage vary from organization to organization with different outcomes. Regardless of whether it’s dollar to dollar or pound to pound comparisons – more than three-quarters of a million pounds of food for the same $80,000 investment speaks for itself.

    If anyone has questions about United Way go to

  5. Submitted by Katherine Werner on 01/27/2010 - 08:12 pm.

    FINALLY, a public response, not entirely accurate or complete, but a response. It took a year, but maybe a year was needed for such well-crafted backpedaling. Unfortunately, the real author is not identified; Marsha Pitts-Phillips is their the PR messenger,albiet a good one. I can document everything I said: pounds, food, dollars, whatever, but it no longer matters. What matters is that United Way chose to abruptly terminate a low-cost, effectively-run hands-on project that FED PEOPLE just as hunger stats were sky rocketing and food shelves needed more help, not less.

    What matters is that the project was abruptly terminated without the forethought articulated so well in Ms Pitts-Phillips’ note. So abruptly, for example, that I was given a 5% raise by my supervisor Amy Lopez as we discussed ideas for 2009; then just four weeks later, I’m told the project is shut down.

    What matters is the lack of consistent, open communication and accountability within this powerful organization, and externally among its partners and within the community. This is the #2 United Way in the system! United Way “Inc.” is a fund raising dinosaur whose role as a profitable middle man dispersing precious DONATED funds to agencies who do all the heavy lifting needs to be examined and challenged.

    People are hungry, homeless and hurting – NOW! I say let’s spend more time and money addressing these BASIC NEEDS and a little less time and money studying and discussing them.

  6. Submitted by Rebecca Hoover on 01/28/2010 - 02:19 am.

    Marsha Pitts-Phillips, Public Relations Manager for the United Way, took the time to tell us that executive salaries at the United Way are set by a board of directors as if we did not already know. Amazing! I wonder how much it cost the United Way to pay Ms. Pitts-Phillips’ salary and benefits while she provided this unneeded information? Wouldn’t that money have been better used to buy food for hungry Twin Citians? I’m guessing a hungry senior citizen could have eaten for a long time with the money involved.

    If the United Way’s staff have time for this type of information distribution, it seems the United Way needs some belt tightening.

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