Ramsey County’s big new priority: hunger

County Perspectives
Ramsey County’s big new priority: hunger

by Ramsey County Commissioner, District 5
Rafael Ortega
columnist
Ramsey County, in response to COVID-19 in 2020, took on a big new priority: addressing hunger. The federal government allocated $10 million in CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) funding, and we created the Food Security Committee. I chaired the committee, and we included elected officials throughout Ramsey County and included city councilmembers, school board members and staff who worked directly with people in need of food. Funds were used not only to enhance the operations of organizations working in this area, but also to expand services, and we looked very carefully to find the holes in our existing structure.
We were faced with the immediate need to feed school kids who relied on meals at school and families with COVID who didn’t have extended family or money to pay for food delivery, but as we looked at the issues, it was clear that there are serious longer-term needs.
We supported three priority areas: Home-based meal delivery; Food shelves and basic needs; and School meals for youth. 
Over 500,000 home-delivered meals were provided to those impacted by COVID-19 (which the county continued through April 2021); food shelf and food programs were supported to purchase culturally appropriate foods and to support infrastructure like staff and supplies; and funding allowed youth-serving organizations to be nimbler in response. This also proved to be a great way to support small restaurants that struggled during the first year of the COVID-19 crisis.
As a direct result of this work, we at Ramsey County created a new position to continue food security work. Carissa Glatt is serving in this role and is assessing what our food needs are. Additionally, she is interviewing health care providers, food shelves and schools to learn the role of the county in working toward food security now and envisioning our role in the future. 
Based on preliminary input, we may do more to support food shelves and expand urban agriculture, as well as coordinate communication for SNAP, WIC and other county benefits (since accessing one area of benefits can lead to better food access). 
I want to thank all the community members and organizations that supported the food work in response to COVID-19 . If you have input or would like more information, please contact carissa.glatt@co.ramsey.mn.us or sign up for Ramsey County Food Security information: https://service.govdelivery.com/accounts/MNRAMSEY/subscriber/new?topic_id=MNRAMSEY_501

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