By Pafoua Yang

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The shelves at St. Croix Valley Food Bank in Hudson began filling up this week. The new formed food distributor has a mission to end local hunger by serving 6 million pounds of food in western Wisconsin. According to their website, nearly 10,000 households are projected to be food insecure in western Wisconsin. In addition, 30-60% more food will be needed to respond to those in need by 2023.

“We are reaching rural communities where there’s high poverty, food pantry, no local grocery store,” explained Ann Searles, Executive Director of St. Croix Valley Food Bank. “The need is real, we saw people we’ve never seen before. It’s important we hit the ground running right here in St. Croix Valley in response to that need.”

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St. Croix Valley also does monthly distributions at Balsam Lake using their mobile pantry. St. Croix Valley serves four counties including Pierce, St. Croix, Polk and Burnett.

The growing need has sparked a partnership between St. Croix Valley and Second Harvest Heartland.

“We have the opportunity to leverage buying power. We can purchase food at discounted rate from Second Harvest and share that savings to our local pantries,” explained Searles.

The nonprofit is distributing food to more than 35 food pantries including Cornerstone Church in Hudson.

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Pastor Eric Olson told WCCO that food insecurity went through the roof. Olson and his church members have been collecting donations and rescue food at grocery stores to distribute every week. The church feeds 150-200 families a week.

Olson said western Wisconsin is a region that’s often overlooked when it comes to food insecurity.

“For years people would say to me we need a food shelf. I said, ‘In Hudson? This is one of the wealthiest places in the metro; we don’t need a food shelf here.’ But there are pockets of people experiencing food insecurity,” Olson said.

According to the Hunger Relief Federation of Wisconsin, rural counties saw the largest increases in rates of people applying for food stamps.

With the ripple effects of the pandemic, food pantries appreciate finally having a full fledge food bank right in their backyard.

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St. Croix Valley also does monthly distributions at Balsam Lake using their mobile pantry.

Pafoua Yang