As sheriff’s deputies patrol the streets of Minneapolis later this year, they’ll be packing bright orange boxes of oatmeal and fruit. The officers are working with a new program designed to help get healthy food to people who are struggling to find their next meal.
“What we have seen is an increased need to be able to reach people in non-traditional ways,” says Joe Newhouse, community engagement director at Matter, the nonprofit that created the new program. “Many organizations addressing core issues of poverty–like education, economic, safety, and health–haven’t been able to contribute to the food insecurity issues because of capacity concerns.”
While others struggle with challenges like space for inventory, staffing, and food safety requirements, Matter is able to simplify the process by packing boxes that others–like the officers–can distribute. “By having shelf-stable food in a box, it immediately reduces those capacity issues, and allows us to work with many non-traditional organizations to help expand access to food,” says Newhouse. The program is designed to fill in the gaps between existing resources like food banks.
The organization worked with a nutritionist to design meals that wouldn’t just be filling, but healthy. “People talk a lot about hunger, but an even bigger issue is making sure people are connected with the right type of food,” he says. “There are now more obese people in the world than undernourished and starving combined. Obesity and diabetes are especially prevalent for people living in scarcity.”
In the U.S., obesity rates in poor counties are 145% higher than in more affluent areas. Food insecure people–those who don’t have reliable access to food–are more likely to have diseases like diabetes.
The boxes include versions for breakfast and lunch, along with a “family box” with recipes for bigger meals. Along with snacks like fruit and granola bars, the boxes are also packed with tips on healthy eating.
“Our goal for these boxes is to help fill some of the hunger gaps, while increasing access to healthy food and education,” says Newhouse. “We approached the sheriff’s department because their officers are really the first ones to see the issues of hunger and homelessness. These boxes allow them to now respond, help alleviate some short-term issues, and build stronger relationships with the community.”
The organization is also partnering with local schools and a hospital. Over the next few years, they plan to give out 5 million meals.
It’s the kind of thing that other communities could replicate–and that people could do on their own for the homeless person living down the street or a struggling neighbor.
“When we talk some serious and large issues like hunger, homelessness, and health, the danger is that individuals can start feeling like a drop-in-the-bucket, that there is no way they can make any impact on those issues,” Newhouse says. “So we encourage everyone to start by simply asking themselves, what do I have in my own two hands? What are those simple acts of resourcefulness where I can be more resourceful with my time, my efforts, and resources? If everyone were to do that, it could literally change the world.”