BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. - For many this Fourth of July is centered around cookouts, picnics and lots of food, but a newly released USDA study found it's not the reality for all Americans.
Food insecurity increased in most of the United States in the past decade, including Minnesota. In 2011, nearly 15 percent of US households were food insecure. That's up from 10.7 percent in 2001.
Hunger Solutions Minnesota says one in five Minnesota families face hunger and food insecurity, which means children don't always receive three meals a day, and advocates say the problem even more prevalent in the summer, when there is no access to free or reduced school meals.
The Community Emergency Assistance Programs food shelf (CEAP) in Brooklyn Center is seeing an uptick in the 1,500 families that use food and emergency services each month.
"Hunger doesn't take a vacation," said Tiffany Nguyen, CEAP communications and community relations manager. "The summer sun is wonderful it definitely doesn't fill those hungry stomachs."
Michelle Barton, of Brooklyn Center, unfortunately understands that need. She came to CEAP for emergency food assistance after losing her job. Her two children have access to free and reduced meals during the school year, but she's feeling a strain to feed them in the summer.
"I cut myself back to one meal a day to make sure they are fed and taken care of," said Barton. "There are so many of us struggling. You got to take away your pride, reach out and ask."
CEAP and more than 160 food shelves across the state are seeing record demands, and are putting out a call to fill shelves and close the nutritional gap.
Many of the organizations are participating in the fourth Annual Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless Food Shelf Summer Challenge, a grant program provides matching supplemental dollars to food shelves' fundraising activities in July. The fundraising program is designed to bring additional dollars to food shelves and increase awareness of child hunger during the summer.
CEAP Executive Director Byron Lehar says for every dollar donated, CEAP can purchase five dollars worth of food. He's recently launched an effort to try and double the amount of healthy produce offered to families.
CEAP also felt an extra pinch in the past few weeks, serving about 1,000 people that lost their power and food during the storm.
"Summer is really tight on their budgets. People who come here are struggling, not making high wages," said Laher. "We try to eliminate their crisis."
This Fourth of July, Barton says CEAP gave her freedom from a weekend of worry.
"It's great to have the holidays and you are so thankful to spend time with your friends and family and all that, but you still need to think about the people that don't have - even donating a couple hot dog packages can help a family in need."
In 2012, there were 1.3 million child visits to food shelves. That reflects a 66 percent increase since 2007.
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