Last Sunday, the Hibbing Daily Tribune reported that the Hibbing Food Shelf would close later this month. Among the reasons cited was a lack of community volunteers and funding, and the rising cost of food.
This happened despite the growing number of people who need the temporary assistance of a food bank. Across Northern Minnesota, Second Harvest food banks report increasing demand for food. December broke records at food banks throughout the region.
This, even though the stock market has been on a tear for almost a year.
Yes, even though the taconite mines are all running again.
Despite the unprecedented plenty of American food production, Americans still face food insecurity, especially amid poverty or life transitions.
Fortunately, there are other resources available to people who need food. The Hibbing Salvation Army operates a food shelf and soup kitchen and several neighboring towns maintain food banks. Yet, these alone won’t make up for the loss of the Hibbing Food Shelf.
By far, the people most in need of food banks are families with children and the elderly. The disabled are the next biggest group. Nearly all face some form of poverty or jarring life circumstances. And a vast majority use the food bank temporarily, only when it is truly needed.
In this changing economy, signing on at the mine or the mill simply isn’t an option for the people who most need to improve their station in life. Even when the mines and mills run hot, they need far fewer people than they did 40 years ago, a time still etched in the institutional memories of today’s leaders.
To understand, one must fully absorb what it’s like to be in poverty or transition. Some of us know what that feels like. Some of us have only our impressions.
The jobs available to those without college degrees or technical training pay less and involve much more complex schedules. The people left out of this economy face myriad issues, from a lack of training, to the cost of child care, to the epidemic of addiction, which affects families if not individuals.
The closure of the Hibbing Food Shelf reminds us of the Iron Range’s most pressing issue. We have one economy for people working in high paying fields, and another economy for everyone else. Further, organizations struggle to find new volunteers as their current people get older. The Iron Range faces a crisis of demography that won’t be reversed by changing politics or full mining employment.
We must make this community whole. The Iron Range must become a place for the business owner, the miner, the nurse, the clerk, the housekeeper, and the mother of three who finally, heroically broke the cycle of abuse. The fate of the middle class hockey star is far more assured than that of the kid whose family couldn’t afford the travel and summer camps.
In Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey defended his father’s generous business practices to the town’s power-hungry tycoon.
“Just remember this, Mr. Potter,” said Bailey. “That this rabble you’re talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community.
We have to start caring about things like food banks, and the cost of medical services and child care. These aren’t “extra” problems, they’re far more important than most of what you read in this or any other paper. In fact, they are symptoms of a deeper problem: our Iron Range communities simply do not provide economic security for thousands of people who live here.
That matters, because a healthy community provides pathways to economic independence for everyone. Food banks aren’t the outcome. Rather, they are means to help families as they make those transitions. A stronger middle class supports more local businesses, higher school funding, and a higher quality of life for everyone.
This calls for any solution people care to deploy. We just have to care.
Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, March 19, 2017 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.