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ANOKA, Minn. (WCCO) – They are not just classrooms, computer labs and gymnasiums. Many Minnesota high schools now have food shelves. The need is especially great in Twin Cities suburbs, including Anoka County.
The latest survey found that more than 1,400 people are homeless in Anoka County, and nearly 600 are children in families. Even more startling is the increase in young adults ages 18 to 21 who are homeless.
Two years ago, there were 54, and now that number has doubled to 108.
Teachers in the Anoka-Hennepin School District are watching out for children who are in need. There are warning signs that they might not have basic necessities like food. Maybe they wear the same clothes to class daily, or don’t have a coat when it’s cold. District administrators said the need for feeding families through school isn’t going away.
“I’m very, very thankful that this is here,” said 16-year-old Alexis. “Otherwise we probably wouldn’t have any food at all.”
She comes to the food bank in Coon Rapids High School. She’s the one helping feed her family, after her mother suffered financial problems and lost her job.
“I get food from here all the time, a lot,” she said. “It means that we actually have food at our house, so our family can eat, especially my brother.”
In fact, up to 30 students get food from this same food shelf every week. It’s one of eight in district middle and high schools. District administrators said they think all the district’s middle schools will have a food shelf next year.
Teacher Holli Moseman helped start the newest food shelf at Anoka High School in the last month.
“Before we really started this, I didn’t think much about the struggles they might be having at home. Now it’s the first thing that comes to mind,” she said.
Moseman knows that hungry stomachs don’t do well in class, and there are many children who need help at the school. Nearly 800 students qualify for free and reduced lunches.
“They can’t learn if they don’t have their basic needs met,” said Moseman. “So this is a really real way to help kids and make an impact on their lives.”
In high school, discretion is key. The kids who need help come to Anoka High School’s food shelf on Friday afternoons. They walk in, pick up a backpack of food for the weekend and walk right out. They blend in fine with everyone else at schools, and the contents of the backpack stay with them.
Inside that backpack, there are breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack items for at least one weekend day.
Residents and church groups are donating the food. One student was even seen crying when they saw a bottle of shampoo, because they hadn’t been able to wash their hair.
“It makes it easier to know we’ll have food at home, and we don’t have to worry about the money,” said Alexis.