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Douglas County Outreach Food Shelf prepares for the 'food cliff'

The ending of emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, the high cost of food, supply chain issues and the decrease in food availability are among the issues facing food assistance programs.

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Bernice Wimmer is the executive director of the Douglas County Outreach Food Shelf.
Echo Press file photo
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ALEXANDRIA — A combination of factors are contributing toward what some are calling the "food cliff."

The ending of emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, the high cost of food, supply chain issues and the decrease in food availability are among the issues facing food assistance programs.

"It's almost like the perfect storm," said Bernice Wimmer, executive director of the Outreach Food Shelf in Alexandria.

One of the major problems is the ending of e-SNAP benefits.

"In July, that drops off," Wimmer said. "Minnesota is picking up August and September, so it won't drop off in Minnesota until the end of September. Once that drops off, you're going to see an increase of need at the food shelves."

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Another problem is the increase in the cost of food, and the decrease in its availability, which is part of why the food shelf is receiving fewer donations.

"In the first quarter, we were down 32-33% in donations," Wimmer said. "In April we were down 35%. So it's still going down."

Last month, Wimmer was one of 65 food assistance representatives who participated in a Zoom call with Hunger Solutions Minnesota that was called "Preparing for the Cliff."

"The whole point was, are you prepared?" Wimmer said. "They wanted us to be aware and start planning. … I know that we saw it decreasing. I didn't go further than that, as far as looking into the SNAP funding and putting it all together. Hunger Solutions did that.

"I think it was an eye-opener for a lot of people," she said.

Planning was one of the main focuses of the presentation.

"That piece was big, on what you can do, how can we do this, how can you help people and make sure they have enough food," Wimmer said.

Part of preparing for the "cliff" involves applying for grants.

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"The first thing was there are some (American Rescue Plan Act) grants that went out," Wimmer said. "It was in April, and we applied, and so we did get some of those ARPA dollars."

Another way to prepare is to buy foods in varying sizes, Wimmer said.

"I can get smaller sizes for one to two people, and the bigger sizes for bigger families," she said. "I'm doing more of that, just trying to get any way I can to help people and keep food in here at the food shelf."

The Outreach Food Shelf currently serves approximately 75 clients per week.

"It's kind of easing up a little bit," Wimmer said. "We're holding steady at 75-plus. This week (Thursday) we've had 71 households so far. I guarantee we're going to be over 80 this week, which is a lot. It's the most I've ever seen in a week."

Seventy-four clients were served in the last week of April this year, Wimmer said.

By comparison, 43 were served at this time last year.

The food shelf received 29,385 pounds of food from local businesses in April 2022.

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In April 2021, the food shelf received 54,474 pounds.

"It's down 15,000," Wimmer said. "It's a lot. But they don't have it. You can't even buy it."

However, she added, "It's amazing we get that much food. It really is."

The war between Russia and Ukraine may also have an effect, being that Ukraine is a big grain producer.

"We're going to have a shortage of bread," Wimmer said.

For now, food assistance organizations are preparing for what the future may bring.

"We are trying to get a grip on this and have a plan," Wimmer said.

Outreach Food Shelf is a 501(c)3 charity originally established in July 1982. The Rev. Jeff Bullock of Emmanuel Episcopal Church recognized the need for a food shelf in Alexandria. With the help of Wally Bloom and his wife Virginia the message was brought to the churches and community.

For more information, go to https://www.outreachfoodshelf.org/

Travis Gulbrandson covers several beats, including Osakis School Board and Osakis City Council, along with the Brandon-Evansville School Board. His focus will also be on crime and court news.
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