Groups shine light on 'hidden' hunger
Sue Halvorson knows there is a hunger problem in the Fargo-Moorhead area. As executive director of the Dorothy Day Shelter and Food Pantry in Moorhead, Halvorson has seen the number of families served rise an average of 1,000 per year over the pa...
Sue Halvorson knows there is a hunger problem in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
As executive director of the Dorothy Day Shelter and Food Pantry in Moorhead, Halvorson has seen the number of families served rise an average of 1,000 per year over the past five years.
"More people are living paycheck to paycheck," she said.
Statistics collected by the Great Plains Food Bank show that last year there were 57,738 food shelf visits in the F-M area - an 11.8 percent increase from 2003.
Steve Sellent, program director for the Great Plains Food Bank, said the statistics can be surprising.
"Hunger is fairly well hidden in the community," he said.
It was with that fact in mind that the Fargo-Moorhead Hunger Coalition, Fargo Theatre and Downtown Community Partnership organized an event to raise awareness and money.
The Can Film Festival is Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Admission is either five nonperishable food items or a suggested donation of $5. Profits will be distributed by the hunger coalition.
Margie Bailly, executive director of the Fargo Theatre, said the event is focused toward people who work downtown to stop in over their lunch hour.
In addition to concessions at the theater, there will be burgers and brats sold in the parking lot.
Three films will be shown. One called "It Was a Wonderful Life" features profiles of three homeless women.
"I think that the film media is hugely effective in changing people's attitudes," Bailly said.
The canned food admission won't be the only thing gathering donations. A volunteer will collect items from downtown businesses to benefit hunger relief organizations.
A news conference at 11 a.m. will include the latest hunger statistics and a proclamation by Fargo Mayor Bruce Furness and Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland to make June 7 Hunger Awareness Day.
People who have been affected by hunger will tell their stories.
Michelle Swenson, 41, had food pantry assistance when she was young.
Her family moved to Fargo when she was in first grade. After an accident left her father unable to work with a business he had just started, the family lost their house.
"Basically, our family lost everything," Swenson said.
Friends of the family took them in, and they began relying on assistance like food pantries.
It is easy to be embarrassed about the situation, Swenson said, but it is not something to be embarrassed about.
Now, Swenson tries to do everything she can for those in need, from participating in food drives to giving gifts at Christmas.
"I feel like they helped me, if they could use my help I'll do whatever I can," she said.
Swenson said her experience needing assistance has made her the person she is today.
"Do you grow up and be bitter about it, or do you grow up and become a more giving person?" she said.
Elizabeth Swee, who works directly with families at the Dorothy Day Food Pantry, estimates 40 percent of the people the pantry serves are children.
The number of families using food pantries increases in the summer because school is out.
"The kids don't have that extra meal at school," Halvorson said.
Like many other food pantries, the Dorothy Day Food Pantry assists through food baskets. Families can come in monthly. The amount of food increases based on how many people there are in the family.
"We try to keep the baskets healthy, so they can get the nutrients they need," Halvorson said.
The biggest needs, she said, are peanut butter, oil and meat.
"There are times when we don't have much protein at all," Halvorson said.
Those requesting assistance are required to sign a statement saying they meet the poverty guidelines that make it possible to receive assistance set by the state and the USDA.
"We don't need a pay stub or anything like that," Swee said. "If somebody's hungry, we're going to feed them."
A variety of people use the food pantry, Swee said.
"There is no one group in relation to the total population that uses the pantry more," she said.
Bailly said some people don't realize the need for food pantries in the area and the effect of hunger.
"We get a little complacent about it," she said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Barbara Raus at (701) 235-7311