An Echo Press Editorial: Pandemic doesn't stop efforts to help the hungry

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Andrew Holte (right) and Bennett Schuneman pack food into bags to be distributed during the United Way Mobile Food Drop last month. More than 230 people registered to pick up free food, compared to a typical average of about 150 to 175. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)

Beyond the health threat, one of the most troubling parts of the COVID-19 pandemic is people going hungry.

It is heart-wrenching to imagine families, suffering from lost income, not having enough money to buy basic grocery supplies for their children. Or the elderly, also cash-strapped or too frightened to leave their homes to get food, having to skip meals.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is food and help available at the state and local level.

The Douglas County Food Shelf has an abundance of food right now and has taken steps to make sure that picking up the food is safe and convenient.

People don’t even have to leave their vehicles. They can call in an order and the food shelf will pack the food in boxes. When people come to pick the items up, food shelf workers will place the boxes right in the trunk of their vehicles.


They don’t even have to sign any papers. Those who want to use the food shelf only have to call 320-762-8411 during the food shelf’s regular operating hours and they’ll receive help and instructions.

The food shelf hours are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesday through Thursday, and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Fridays. The food shelf is closed on the weekends.

The food shelf is also placing food in front of the United Way office at 503 Hawthorne Street.

The United Way is also offering another one of its mobile food drops on Thursday, April 30 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at New Life Christian Church. Attendees register then go through a line where they can receive an assortment of food, free of charge. It’s open to all those living in Douglas County. Register online at or call 320-834-7800.

Another amazing local group – Helping Hands of Alexandria – has been making a tremendous difference in the community, even earning kudos from Gov. Tim Walz and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Its network of local volunteers is helping those who have compromised immune systems, individuals who are more susceptible to the COVID-19, or people who feel afraid to leave their homes can post their needs – including grocery shopping – and a volunteer will help and deliver their items to them. Go to their Facebook page, Helping Hands of Alexandria, MN, to find out more.

Also, the Minnesota Department of Human Services has temporarily modified procedures to make it easier for people to get, keep and use essential programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which offers monthly food benefits.

Information about SNAP and other hunger resources is collected on the department’s new food emergency webpage . People who use SNAP and don’t want to leave their homes to get food can authorize a trusted relative, friend or neighbor to pick up and deliver groceries using their electronic benefits card. They must contact their county or tribal financial worker to make the authorization.


Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead has approved these temporary changes to other economic assistance programs:

  • Eliminating paperwork, in-person meetings and other requirements that would be difficult or impossible to meet under social distancing restrictions, for economic assistance programs including the Minnesota Family Investment Program, General Assistance, Housing Support and Minnesota Supplemental Aid

  • Ensuring that people who receive assistance don’t have to repay overpayments caused by worker or system errors.

“We want people to have the nutrition and other help they need to stay healthy during this time of upheaval,” Harpstead said in a news release issued last week. “We encourage anyone who has experienced a sudden loss of income to find out if they are eligible for SNAP and other economic assistance programs.”
Minnesotans can fill out an application for SNAP online at . For help applying or additional food resources, contact the Food Helpline at 1-888-711-1151 or visit Hunger Solutions .

The pandemic is creating whole new levels of anxiety and uncertainty. But there are lots of bright spots – local heroes, volunteers and resources – that can pull people together and get us through the tough times.

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