As the CEO of Second Harvest Heartland, Allison O’Toole is at, as she puts it, the doorstep of a game-changing moment for the nonprofit hunger-relief organization. “Our new facility in Brooklyn Park will allow us to up our game to get more healthy food to more people‚ which is increasingly necessary,” she says.
“We know from our vast network of hunger-relief agencies on the frontlines that food programs and shelves are seeing more visits than ever before,” she adds. “Hunger is a really hidden, invisible problem. With the rising cost of living, housing and healthcare, families are struggling. Even though we’re in a time when we hear about how strong the economy is, that’s not true for everyone. There are some corners of our community where our economy has not recovered.”
At Second Harvest Heartland, every donated dollar turns into three meals for the community. And for every meal the organization provides, the federal government program SNAP provides nine. Last year, Second Harvest Heartland provided 97 million meals to those in need, like the one in eight children in Minnesota who are at risk or experience hunger. “Not being able to meet this need is what keeps me up at night,” notes O’Toole.
Her law degree comes in handy when she’s advocating for hunger relief. “It’s incumbent upon me to help the general public understand the condition of our community,” she emphasizes. “It’s my responsibility as a leader, every chance I can, to paint that picture. Hunger is so much closer to all of us than we think: colleagues, neighbors, even family members.”
“This is solvable,” she continues. “We live in a region with more than enough food and resources to go around; it’s about the logistics of connecting it to the people who need it. This is caring for your neighbors and community. How are we going to show up for our neighbors? At some point, it’s a really basic belief about neighbors helping neighbors that I hope most people can find in their hearts.”
And we all have a role, O’Toole maintains: “Everyone can help by volunteering, contributing financially, or even having a conversation at your own dinner table about the true impact and face of hunger in our community. I know together we can solve this problem.”