Minnesota Pol never met a hungry person? He should get out more

Minnesota State Senate

Minnesota State Senate

In speaking out against a proposed school breakfast and lunch program, Republican state Sen. Steve Drazkowski said this week that he “has yet to meet a person in Minnesota who is hungry.”

I guess he doesn’t get out much.

At least a dozen food pantries are feeding record crowds in Drazkowski’s home district, officials told The Daily Beast. The Lake City Food Shelf had eight families come in in just the first half hour Thursday. It often sees between 20 and 30 families in a day, more than 100 in a week.

That number has increased significantly in recent years. And longtime director Carole Helgerson says the same is generally true throughout District 20, which Drazkowski represents.

“We’re all seeing increases,” said the 76-year-old retired sixth-grade teacher. “Some of them you could almost say have doubled since before COVID.”

Nationwide, there were a record 5.5 million visits to food pantries last year, up from 1.9 million in 2021. And as someone who had been feeding the needy as a volunteer for 16 years, Helgerson can’t fathom how Drazkowski can say he hasn’t. encountered a single hungry Minnesotan.

“How can it be?” she asked. “I’m sure he won’t get out and he’s just a big old politician.”

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She summed up her view of the 58-year-old Republican lawmaker, who served eight terms in the state House of Representatives before being elected to the state Senate in 2022.

“I’m sorry, he’s just an asshole,” she said.

Among those who are definitely not assholes are the 40 people who volunteer with her.

“For the most part, they’re all retired people who want to give back,” she said.

Families who arrive are given a list of the food items available, which includes fresh fruits and vegetables. There’s also bread that a bakery would otherwise throw away, and meat frozen and donated by WalMart after it neared its “sell by” date.

Target is donating items, including jumbo bags of candy that have been opened. The volunteers make small surprise packages that they sometimes bring with them when they collect what the families have marked on the day’s list.

“It’s kind of like Halloween,” Helgerson said.

She says only a very small percentage of families fail to express their gratitude.

“We get things like, ‘God bless you for doing this,'” she reported. “It’s a great feeling to go home and say, ‘Hey, I made a difference in someone’s life.'”

A basic principle applies to all food pantries.

“Helping people when they need it,” Helgerson said.

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A shelter that has not seen the wave that many others have experienced in Drazkoski’s hometown of Mazeppa.

“We’ve been up to 30 families,” Jim Perrotti, the 61-year-old director of Mazeppa’s Food Shelf, told The Daily Beast. “Right now it’s a little down.”

But, he added, “we have people who are hungry.” And with his hometown’s population under 900 and with Drazkowski’s home just over a mile from the food shelf, it seems the senator would have had a good chance of running into someone in serious need of a meal.

“I see him at the gas station putting gas in his vehicle, so I know he’s going out,” Perrotti said.

If he wants to meet a hungry person, Drazkowski could just make the four-minute drive to the food shelf from the house that serves as his district office.

Should Drazkowski stick around and volunteer, he would learn, as Perriotti has learned, that misfortune can befall anyone. He also wants to see how people open up when greeted with what he calls a “‘how’s your day going?’ and ‘what can we help you with?’” attitude.

“They all have an interesting story,” Perrotti said.

Perrotti says that at least once every two years, someone who has entered will disappear for a while and return with a check for something like $100.

“And say, ‘You don’t know what that meant to us,'” Perrotti reported.

Drazkowsi did not respond to a Daily Beast request for comment. Anyone who doubts Helgerson’s assessment need only consider the additional bitterness the politician expressed in the Senate.

“Now I have to say that hunger is a relative term,” he said. “I had a cereal bar for breakfast. I guess I’m hungry now.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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