A man pulls food out of a freezer at a food bank.

Something to be thankful for

Checking in with Feeding South Dakota this holiday season

Every family has its own unique Thanksgiving spread, but there is a good chance some favorites will appear across tables this Thursday. A turkey at the center, surrounded by mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing (or does your family call it dressing?) and perhaps some cranberry sauce. Maybe there is even a bubbling hot dish of macaroni and cheese. 

These are the simple, time-honored dishes that evoke warm memories and comfort as we fill our plates. But for far too many families in our communities, something as necessary and comforting as a full plate of food is outside of their reach. Their reality is a Thanksgiving of need rather than plenty. It’s a time of worry rather than joy. 

With the holiday season just around the corner, we found ourselves thinking about Matt Gassen and the team at Feeding South Dakota once again. You see back in July, we delivered 40,000 pounds of macaroni and cheese through the Land O’Lakes Foundation’s First Run program, which provides truckloads of fresh dairy products to food banks across the country to help alleviate hunger in local communities. Feeding South Dakota is able to receive food donations from corporations like Land O’Lakes thanks to its partnership with Feeding America. 

In 2016, Feeding South Dakota will assist in providing temporary food assistance to more than 190,000 hungry individuals and families in South Dakota. That’ll add up to 13.5 million pounds of food. And now is one of their busiest times. 

“Thanksgiving is the beginning of what is always a busy holiday season—a season filled with many food drives, events, fundraisers and volunteer projects,” says Matt. “What happens during this time of year truly sets the stage for all that we are able to do the rest of the year. It also is one of our busiest in terms of the numbers of families and individuals that we serve.”

Beyond the numbers 

The USDA defines food insecurity as a lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods. Food insecurity may also reflect a household's need to make trade-offs between paying for things such as housing or medical bills and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods. Food insecure households are not necessarily food insecure all the time, but holidays can be especially hard.

Since 2006, the team at Feeding South Dakota has been able to provide food insecure families with complete Thanksgiving meals. Matt says the goal for this year is to collect and distribute 5,000 frozen turkeys with fixings.

“At the beginning of November, we launch our annual turkey drive where we set a goal to collect over 5,000 frozen turkeys and raise the necessary funds to buy all the fixings to go with the turkeys,” he says. “Thanksgiving is an opportunity for our organization to not only meet the daily hunger needs of struggling families, but also to provide them with a turkey and fixings so that they can have Thanksgiving meal like the rest of us. This helps to not only provide food, but hope and dignity to those we serve.”

Give a little thanks 

When they sit down at their own holiday tables this season, the Feeding South Dakota team will be thankful for many things. They have a bigger and better facility, which will allow them to provide more, and better, meals to families in 2017. There is an increasing need for food in the state, but thankfully many are working hard to source what’s needed. And as the new year rolls around, the team will continue to form new partnerships and strengthen existing ties to ensure that all those who need it have access to food. 

“We are so grateful to everyone who has so graciously donated their time, talents and treasures to help us in the fight to end hunger,” says Matt. “None of the work that we do could happen if not for them. Our staff, partners and volunteers—they are truly the silent hero in the fight against hunger.”