If you find those numbers sobering, you’re not alone. Minnesota Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie felt the same way.
“That’s a big number if you think about all those people that need help,” he said. “We have to get that number down by all means necessary.”
The local pro sports teams are doing their part this week, joining forces with Fox Sports North and other local media outlets to support Minnesotans in need through an initiative called “Home Teams vs. Hunger.” Launched Wednesday and running through Sept. 30, the effort is aimed at raising funds to tackle hunger. All proceeds benefit Second Harvest Heartland and five other Feeding America food banks serving 110 counties across Minnesota and western Wisconsin.
Twenty-one athletes, coaches or executives ranging from the six local pro sports teams to the Gophers are serving as spokespeople for the event.
Anyone can go to www.2Harvest.org/hometeams and donate and/or bid on auction items ranging from memorabilia to exclusive experiences.
Second Harvest Heartland CEO Allison O’Toole said her team is “so humbled by the gesture.” She noted there are many things people can’t control right now, but they can still show up for their communities. That is needed now more than ever. The surge of people in need of food assistance is real. O’Toole said data showed there would be a 70 percent increase of people in need in this area during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that number is up to 50 percent now. Countless people don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
“So we need all hands on deck, and when the sports community comes together like this, we are overjoyed,” O’Toole said. “But we need this help so we can help this community thrive at the end of this.”
O’Toole said 40 percent of families showing up for assistance haven’t had to do so before. Part of the goal of weeks like this is to raise awareness along with funding. It’s not only OK to ask for help when needed, it’s something you should do.
“I always think that asking for help shows that you trust your community, and there is no shame in asking for a hand when you need it,” O’Toole said. “I know the folks asking for help right now, when they get back on their feet, they will do the same for someone else in need. And that’s why we’re here. That is our mission — to help.”
As the need has increased, so too, O’Toole said, has the community’s generosity. But she said people have to stick with it. She called this a “prolonged” crisis, projecting the level of hunger to go through the end of 2021, with the economic crisis lasting longer. The hunger level will only rise as added unemployment benefits dissipate. O’Toole said her organization is seeing a 50 percent increase in food distributions since last year. That number is up 25 percent since July.
The increase of people in need, O’Toole said, is double what it was 10 years ago during the Great Recession.
The pandemic also makes it more difficult to serve those people. Second Hand Harvest has had to bolster staff to make the logistics work, something O’Toole is grateful to have the resources to do. No longer can they have 150 volunteers in a center right now during COVID-19 restrictions. That number is currently reduced to 18. Needs are being filled with prepackaged foods that can go truck to trunk. That all requires resources, mainly dollars.
“That’s really the most important source of help right now,” O’Toole said.
That’s why she said this initiative is coming at the perfect time.
“We are on the steepest side of that climb right now,” she said. “We are distributing now over 300,000 pounds of food every day from our Brooklyn Park warehouse. So we are in it. The timing is perfect for this help, and we need teamwork across this community. It is fabulous that these teams are stepping up. We need it.”