Food security project connects food shelves as insecurity rises

(ABC 6 News) – Most of Mower County resides in Austin, Minn., leaving the rest of Mower without food safety nets, a problem the Hometown Food Security Project aims to address.

The Mower County based organization Hometown Food Security Project (HFSP) is led by Hormel Foods and United Way of Mower County, according to a statement from HFSP. The HFSP states the project aims to maintain consistent inventory of and access to food in the region. They accomplish this through donations (such as a recent one from Hormel Foods) and sponsorships (including but not limited to Austin Public Schools Nutrition Services, Salvation Army and Hormel Foods).

Recently, HFSP visited four of the rural county’s pantries to assess challenges, service and client needs. HFSP presented a recent donation from Hormel Foods to pantries in Racine, Le Roy, Grand Meadow and Adams.

It’s just incredible,” said Tracey Hoover, director of the Racine Food Shelf. “We certainly weren’t expecting a donation, and so to be presented with one like that, it was just so overwhelming and unexpected, and we are so grateful. It will really make a big difference in the lives of our clients so they can get the food items they depend on.”

According to Hunger Solutions, a Minnesotan nutritional advocacy group, Minnesotans made 5.5 million visits to food shelves in 2022; a record high, according to the group.

In a 2022 report, Hunger Solutions estimated about 3.5 million visits in 2021 and 3.8 million in 2020.

About 40,000 residents live in Mower County, according to 2022 U.S. Census data. In 2022, Hunger Solutions counted around 29,000 food shelf visits in Mower County. The group estimates that those 29,000 visits came from about 9,600 different homes.

In 2021, Hunger Solutions recorded a little more than 15,000 food shelf visits coming from around an estimated 5,500 households in Mower County.

Data from Food Solutions and the University of Minnesota in 2021 record about a 7% food insecurity rate in Mower County. Also according to data collected by Food Solution and the U of M, about 88% of Mower County residents qualify for SNAP benefits.

HFSP identified that about two-thirds of Mower county resides in Austin alone, “but focusing solely on Austin may inadvertently leave out vulnerable populations in other parts of the county.”