Sometimes the numbers don’t tell the whole story, but they can point to the beginning of the story and where additional questions need to be asked. That might just be the case when reviewing the newest data now available from the 2022 Minnesota Food Shelf Survey.
The survey process, which unfolded over the past several months, is one that happens every two to three years with the last survey taking place in 2019. It is a way for the hunger relief sector to take stock of the needs of individuals facing food insecurity and how local food shelves across the state measure up when trying to meet those needs. Administered by the University of Minnesota Extension and FFEN, the survey partnership includes the Department of Human Services (DHS), Hunger Solutions and SuperShelf, with funding this year by SNAP-Ed.
This is the largest number of survey results collected since the survey’s inception, with 7,014 individual food shelf users from 288 local participating food shelves completing the survey. An additional 248 food shelf managers also completed their own dedicated survey to weigh in from an organizational perspective, with those results to be released soon.
Even in a time of great instability, some factors remained constant. Similar to 2019, survey respondents still preferred to make their own food choices, desired an easy selection process, plenty of food options, and had a preference for fresh and appealing-looking foods. They also appreciated feeling welcomed by both food shelf staff and volunteers.
And though the latest 2022 numbers show that food shelves still have much to be proud of, they also reflect concerning changes in some categories from the 2019 pre-Covid-19 data:
- In 2022, 64% of respondents said they could always choose their own foods, down from 83% in 2019.
- Shoppers continued to prioritize fresh foods like fruit and vegetables, meat, dairy and eggs, however in 2022 they were often less able to obtain those fresh foods compared with 2019, reflecting the more challenging food sourcing environment.
- 2022 also saw record food shelf usage, with 85% of survey respondents visiting their food shelves at least once per month or more frequently, up from 2019.
While many factors may be contributing to changes from survey to survey, it’s important to review areas where some change has occurred and continue to look for ways to better understand what might be happening.
The bottom line: Minnesota food shelves are working hard to do their very best for their shoppers and the impacts of the past several years have been great. In the midst of a waning yet still persistent global pandemic, food shelves continue to be plagued by supply chain issues and barriers to food sourcing, distribution and staffing. We know that food shelf leaders are the most resilient, creative and resourceful leaders – They will be leading the way with creative solutions to these challenges so that Minnesota’s food shelves can continue to thrive into the future.