By Mike Moen

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A number of agencies have mobilized staff members and volunteers to distribute food to Minnesotans in need in response to the new coronavirus. But an anti-hunger group says the work being done during this crisis is only the beginning.

Over the past week, Second Harvest Heartland launched efforts to distribute 10,000 supply boxes to families in need. Colleen Moriarty, executive director of Hunger Solutions Minnesota, said having funds on hand for food shelves is another priority.

“We are the organization that distributes state funds to food shelves, and we’ve moved up that distribution hope to get it out within the next week, because food shelves really need funds,” Moriary said.

There’s about $1.5 million set aside for food shelves each year, which comes in two payments. The next payment is scheduled for later this spring, but Moriarty said with cooperation from state officials, they’ll make sure food shelves don’t have to wait.

Moriarty said they’ve also committed a lot of staff to the Minnesota Food Helpline, which can help those in need tap into resources in their communities.

Despite the extra help for food shelves, Moriarty said they still will face a host of challenges in coming weeks. Concerns over the spread of the virus have affected volunteer staffing levels at a time when demand is expected to spike with more people being laid off.

“We have every expectation that after people receive their last paycheck, that there will be a definite increase,” she said.

Moriarty said those looking to help should consider giving money, since food shelves themselves have a better idea of what items are most needed. But if you have an abundance of supplies that are hard to come by, such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer, you’re urged to drop those off. And she said if you feel healthy and are not at high risk for COVID-19, consider volunteering at a local food shelf.