Who They Are
Feeding South Dakota, a Feeding America state food bank, is arguably the most dedicated team fighting hunger in our state- and do we need help! According to the Feeding South Dakota website, one in five children are at risk for going hungry and 40% are on free and reduced lunch programs. Furthermore, 3 of the poorest counties in the United States are within South Dakota’s boarders. And although as a country we are more aware of how food impacts our health, the poorest of the poor are the most vulnerable to food disparities.
For this reason, I was very interested to see how Glean could better help Feeding South Dakota with their overwhelming challenge- and they were gracious enough to invite us for a tour.
Around the table sat three very passionate staff members: Chief Executive Officer, Matt Gassen; Development Director, Kerri DeGraff; and Development Associate, Jennifer Stensaas. It was hard not to catch the excitement for how Feeding South Dakota plans to creatively impact the complex issue of hunger.
New Expanded Location
First, Feeding South Dakota is scheduled to open their expanded location for clients on Monday, July 11th. On a six-acre plot of land between J&L Harley-Davidson and P&M Steel Company on Westport Avenue, they aim to increase food distribution by 50 percent.
Jennifer Stensaas notes two acres of the six acre lot is allotted for expansion. She would love to creatively use the land. “National trends show increasing popularity in seeing what you can grow and how to save money”. Unfortunately, the population they serve is largely homeless, in a transient living situation or without land to plant foods (such as apartment or town home). One possibility she considers would be planting a food forest, garden and/or greenhouse on the land to help stock the pantry with fresh foods, educate those on gardening techniques and involve more volunteer gardeners.
Stensaas is also eager to expand the Mobile Food Pantry. After a grant was provided, the program funded 4 years of serving rural South Dakota. Gassen admitted, “we cannot be everywhere” however their long-term goal is to provide more fruits and vegetables, to more areas at increased frequency though out the year.
Where The Food Comes From
Twice daily, Feeding South Dakota is given an allotment of food that can be “purchased” through Feeding America’s network of donors. “Every food producer you can think of is on the list” Gassen explains. Local food drives, such as the annual Letter Carriers’ Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive, supplement the pantry significantly as well.
Seeing the storage facility was impressive, but Gassen explains, “the new building will be larger, with walk-in refrigerator and freezer storage. You only need to look in today’s grocery stores to see know what food demands are”. Hyvee continues to expand their produce, refrigerated and frozen sections, with less real-estate in the processed and boxed food sections. Gassen says he sees this trend at the food pantry as well. Fresh produce, protein sources (especially meat) and dairy products are in high demand but short supply.
The Food Pantry
Touring the food pantry had its surprises. First, I didn’t realize clients are limited to only one visit every 90 days. No longer is a referral necessary from social services, however, the 3 month wait can be difficult for many families. Gassen hopes this will change but nothing seems to be on the horizon. Their busiest days on record were the two days prior to our visit. Over 100 clients shopped for their families- a day before food stamps issued their monthly stipend. Gassen thought this was a clear sign of more desperate times.
But there were positive surprises as well. The food pantry is far more like the traditional grocery store experience than I expected. Gorman and Jennifer explained their deliberate effort to create a warm environment. Isles are dedicated to breads/pastries and fresh produce. Refrigerators and freezers had the look and feel I was accustomed to. Furthermore, Matt and Jennifer greeted children and clients with “a helpful smile in every isle” just as I experience at HyVee.
Several private food drives are currently in place to help supplement the hungry. Due to lack of breakfast and lunch programs over the summer break, Feeding South Dakota fills an important void through the National BackPack Program. Pictured above, Jennifer Stansaas shows what is included for each child. At-risk children are provided “nutritious, easy-to-prepare foods during weekends and holidays when school is not in session. Food is distributed through the schools because of their relationship with students, easy access and safe environments”. Through this program, more than 5,200 children statewide are given a greater opportunity to learn and grow.
While these programs receive partial funding from local United Way organizations, there is still a significant cost in providing these weekend food packages. Strongly consider current programs including the following:
Plant a Row is in full swing and advertised at several garden stores as a way to donate food from your garden and donate to a local food pantry. Partnerships with AmpleHarvest.org and their free app, helps you to find local pantries, submit your donation and drop them off yourself.
Furthermore, share in the contagious excitement of Feeding South Dakota’s team. You won’t be sorry! Ribbon cutting of the new facility is August 11th at 11:30am with a tour to follow. I will see you there!