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Great Plains Food Bank launches long-term effort to end hunger

Melissa Sobilik, Ending Hunger 2.0 director, announces an initiative to end hunger in the region during a news conference Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, at the Great Plains Food Bank in Fargo. “It’s going to take more than just food to end hunger,” she said. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO – Looking to address the root causes of hunger through long-term solutions, the Great Plains Food Bank has launched a new initiative called Ending Hunger 2.0.

“If food was the answer to ending hunger, then we would’ve ended it by now,” the initiative’s director, Melissa Sobilik, said at a news conference Wednesday, Feb. 21.

The new approach will focus on advocacy, research and community-based solutions. Part of the initiative will be a pilot food-bag program, in which Sanford Health staff in Fargo and Bismarck will introduce first-time mothers to nutrition and affordable grocery shopping.

Mothers will receive a package of food representing a healthy meal plan. The package will include canned fruit and vegetables, whole wheat pasta and sauce, nut butter, soup, oatmeal, cereal, Rice-A-Roni, quinoa and other foods.

Sobolik explained that the root causes of hunger in North Dakota range from financial implications like housing, employment and child care to lack of transportation and geographic proximity to grocery stores. Many families in rural communities are forced to resort to convenience stores or commuting to urban areas to stock up.

Others have difficulty signing up for food stamps, or SNAP. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program affords low income families fresh produce, dairy, meat, bread and seeds that produce food. It requires filling out a 16-page application and a phone interview with social services.

North Dakota’s only food bank, Great Plains operates in 99 communities statewide and in Clay County, Minn. Its food recovery and distribution efforts will continue, with an added emphasis on decreasing the need and creating sustainability.

In a 2014 study of its clients, Great Plains found that too many families were having to decide between food and health care, or food and housing. The food bank’s research will continue, seeking to identify needs, gaps in services and to highlight successes by conducting face-to-face interviews this March through June.

During the study, Great Plains will interview 500 clients, some from each county that the food bank serves, to learn about their households. With this data, the food bank can determine what kinds of programs would be the most beneficial.

Sobilik said Great Plains will also work one-on-one with communities to identify trends and issues, and design solutions. “What works in western North Dakota doesn’t necessarily work in eastern North Dakota,” she said.

The food bank intends to work to change government policy and encourage systemic change by advocating for a nutrition safety net and legislation that addresses the factors contributing to food insecurity.

Sanford Health is partnering with the food bank and plans to give $20,000 per year for the next five years to aid in the effort to end hunger in North Dakota.