MANKATO — Chris Powers reaches into her cart of groceries and pulls out a jumbo pack of whole carrots.
She hands them to the Hy-Vee cashier and says, “I think we’re gonna put these back. If we have money left over, we might take them.”
She and her partners load the rest of their groceries up and watch as the total climbs — $33.71, $58.12, $98.94, $124.13.
“Uh-oh,” she says. “Take a few of those apples out.”
The clerk complies, removing two apples from cute little paper bag with the white handle. New total: $122.43.
“Take one more out.
New total: $120.78. Finally, Powers and the rest of her group can afford the groceries they have. And they did not get to throw back in that extra bag of carrots.
Powers doesn’t normally shop like this. Neither do the other members of her group: Barb Kaus of Carlson Craft, Blue Earth County Administrator Bob Meyer and Ridley CEO Steve Von Roekel. But today’s visit wasn’t about getting groceries. It was about understanding hunger.
The four are all members of the United Way’s board of directors. And while they were at Hy-Vee, other groups of United Way board members were at other grocery stores, including both Cub Food locations, the hilltop Hy-Vee and Walmart.
The idea was to give the board an idea of what many families go through every day in the Mankato area and throughout Minnesota. Gov. Mark Dayton has declared January SNAP Outreach Month. SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and is designed to supplement a family’s efforts to have enough to eat.
As the United Way groups shopped, they were working on a scenario that, for many families, is very real: Brian Carlson and Jenny Carlson are married with two kids. Brian loses his job and, because of the state of the economy, is unable to find work with a comparable wage. After burning through their savings, the family is forced to seek help.