MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — This is the time of year that donations are at their highest at food shelves across the state. But recently the question of what to do with food donations that are not considered healthy foods, has caused some controversy.

In September, the Eagan and Lakeville Resource Center started setting aside items with little or no nutritional value. And then, for about three weeks, they threw that food away.

Second Harvest Heartland says there is a rule in place that prevents food shelves they partner with, from giving food away to other agencies, but they’ve now made arrangements for the Resource Center to give food to the Salvation Army.

“I think we are all grappling with that a bit,” Rob Zeaske, of Second Harvest Heartland. “We are at the front end of a really important conversation of how we marry the elimination of waste, but also the production of very healthy foods for those partners.”

It is a challenge, providing food to those in need, but also allowing those families to have choices.

“A lot of the agencies feel like they need to be there for the 4-year-old birthday party, too, with some pop and a cake that might come from one of our grocery store partners,” Zeaske said.

Susan Russell Freeman is the executive director of Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People.

As she gave us a tour of the new building they are moving into soon, she described the 8,000 people a month their food shelf serves.

“I call it a house of cards, if one thing goes, everything goes,” she said. “You have to make a decision. Am I gonna pay rent, or fix the car. The majority of people we serve work. It’s called the working poor.”

She says choosing what food to distribute is all about balance.

“We are not going to limit anybody,” she said. “We are not going to throw food away. We are going to create an awareness. We are doing it through a nutritional education program as well as a commercial kitchen to re-purpose food.”

In a few months, they’ll hold cooking classes with a focus on healthy meals. And they’ll still offer those sweet treats.

“However the bananas and apples and carrots will be presented in a way that will certainly balance that out. Everyone deserves a cookie or a cake on their birthday,” she said.

VEAP is located in Bloomington and right now they are working with nutritionists from the U of M to come up with a formal plan on how to address the unhealthy food donation issue, and how to develop those cooking and nutrition classes.

Examples of foods that have been called into the question are canned pasta, chips and other salty snacks, cookies, candy and even pop.

Again, it’s up to each place what they want to do.

But what’s happening is that these food shelves are becoming increasingly aware that many of the people they serve are dealing with health issues like diabetes. Or they’re children, and some of their choices may not be the best fit for their diets.

That’s why we are now seeing them look at creating some “healthy food policies.”


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