As Thanksgiving approaches, Minnesota nonprofits struggle to cope with nationwide turkey shortage

For the Open Arms of Minnesota, the hunt for 850 turkeys in the run-up to Thanksgiving has been a frantic race amid a nationwide shortage of the preferred seasonal bird.

Instead of ordering frozen whole turkeys from a supplier for its annual Thanksgiving meal, Open Arms had to salvage nearly 7,000 pounds of turkey thighs, turkey breasts and whole turkeys from three suppliers to preserve the annual tradition – spending three times what it usually does.

“It’s going to cost a lot more this Thanksgiving,” said Leah Hébert Welles, CEO of Open arms, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that provides meals to 1,400 Minnesota residents with life-threatening illnesses. “For some of them, this might be their last Thanksgiving. For some of them, it might be the first time they’ve seen their families after having been isolated for so long due to COVID. So it is. really essential that we keep our services going. “

Minnesota nonprofits that serve those in need are reeling from the same issues plaguing consumers in the grocery store aisles: rising food prices and unprecedented supply chain disruptions that create shortages of everything from eggs to pie crusts, just in time for the holiday season.

With little financial leeway to deal with price increases, most nonprofits are trying to get large amounts for the ever-growing number of people they serve. The state’s 350 food shelves are set to end 2021 with 3.7 million visits, just below the record 3.8 million in 2020, according to Hunger Solutions Minnesota, a hunger advocacy organization throughout. the state.

“In general, everything is more expensive,” said Hébert Welles. “A vacation like this is just as sacred and just as important to people who depend on nonprofits as it is for everyone else. Everyone deserves to have a meal with their family and celebrate their traditions.”

Open Arms is spending 50% more on food and is trying to raise $ 100,000 this month to cover extra Thanksgiving expenses. Hébert Welles is also already planning for Thanksgiving 2022, contracting with a local farmer to raise the turkeys needed for next year.

In New Hope, Sophia Lenarz-Coy ordered hundreds of turkeys in January so her food bank would have enough for Thanksgiving. Food Group executive director, formerly Emergency Foodshelf Network, Lenarz-Coy said she still struggles to find chicken and is paying double the price of what she gets. Other items, like vegetable oil, also nearly doubled in price compared to last year.

Additionally, grocery stores and vendors that usually donate extra produce donate less food or not at all.

“We’re really going to need the support of the community to continue to make sure people have the food they need,” said Lenarz-Coy. She added that she was buying more food from Minnesota farmers, especially farmers of color, to support the local market, which is less affected by the problems of global suppliers.

Second Harvest Heartland, the largest of Minnesota’s seven food banks, has seen food prices soar 5% in the past year due to escalating freight rates, lack of workers and box shortages canning and packaging supplies. Donations of meat are on the decline and crop-specific staples such as jasmine rice, soy sauce and sardines are scarce due to import delays.

All of this means that Minnesota residents who depend on food shelves are likely to see less variety, especially those in communities of color who are already disproportionately affected by hunger, said Allison O’Toole, CEO of Second Harvest.

“Things are really tough right now.… We’re still in the thick of it,” she said, adding that the food shelves served by Second Harvest have seen visits increase by 28% this year.

It’s not just nonprofit food associations that have been affected by supply chain issues.

Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity has reduced the number of homes it builds and rehabilitates due to increased construction costs and wood shortages. In St. Paul, Books For Africa faces increased shipping costs – up to 30-50% higher – for shipping books overseas, as well as longer shipping times.

Bridging, a Twin Cities furniture bank for people in need, faces an urgent shortage of mattresses and box springs. New beds are scarce due to a shortage of foam and steel, so fewer beds are donated by households, retailers and hotels. Association leaders say they need more than 175 mattresses, box springs and bed frames each week to meet customer needs.

“Supply chain issues are only catching up with us now,” said Diana Dalsin, Bridging Community Relations Manager. “We don’t want a time when we are out. For 52 weeks a year, there is a need.”

The most urgent need now is a Thanksgiving meal. Jonathan Palmer was still on the hunt for last minute turkeys last week for the annual collection of Thanksgiving-themed turkeys, dressings, pies and other groceries at Hallie Q. Brown Community Center in St. Paul. It has spread the food distribution over two weeks this year to save time for the nonprofit to scour the Twin Cities for supplies as usual sources have dried up.

The Food Group, Thomson Reuters and the St. Paul Police Department helped the center find turkeys, but Palmer still needed more to feed about 500 households.

“The supply chain is a really big deal,” Palmer said. “The needs are not lacking.

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