HJ/EDHerald Journal, Dec. 26, 2005

Area food shelves deal with record usage through generous giving

By Jenni Sebora

Food shelves across McLeod, Wright, and Carver counties are busier than ever, recording increased numbers in recent years.

There were more than 1.7 million visits to Minnesota’s 300 food shelves in 2004, which is an all-time record for food shelf use in Minnesota.

There are reasons for this increase, McLeod County Emergency Food Shelf coordinator Marietta Neumann and Waconia United Food Shelf coordinator Kathy Bruckbauer noted.

Loss of job, lay-offs, high energy bills, high housing costs, illness, and other crises situations and short-term emergencies, such as cars breaking down, are all reasons why one in 22 Minnesotans rely on food shelves.

Many people using food shelves do not earn enough to cover their basic needs, on average $8.36 per hour, according to www.gmcc.org. During the past 10 years, the average worker’s salary rose 9 percent, while rent rose 34 percent.

Anyone can be, or get into, a situation where it is necessary to use a food shelf, Neumann said.

“Anyone is two paychecks away (from being in an emergency situation),” Neumann said.

“You never know someone’s situation,” Bruckbauer said.

In fact, Neumann, who has 10 grown children, recalls the days when her kids were small and times were pretty tough. Neumann and her husband raised their family on a farm.

“I canned and grew my own food in the garden, did my own sewing. I understand where they are coming from,” Neumann said of clients of the food shelf.

Most food shelves require a written application asking for the number of people in a family, names of family members, and their addresses to verify residency. Some food shelves ask for the emergency situation, but the food shelves will not turn anyone down.

“If someone needs food, they get it,” Bruckbauer said.

Nearly half of those who visit food shelves are children, and senior citizens continue to visit food shelves in record numbers, according to the Minnesota Food Share. More than 20 percent of food shelf clients are elderly.

More than 50 percent of food shelf clients work, and 35 percent are retired or have a disability which prevents work, according to the Minnesota Food Share website, www.hungersolutions.org.

In the year 2004, the Wright County Community Action Council’s food shelf site in Waverly served 682 children, 796 adults, 64 seniors, and 640 households.

In that same year, the McLeod County Emergency Food Shelves served 1,800 households, 118 senior citizens, 2,921 adults, and 2,476 children.

Neumann attests that people are grateful. “Recently, a woman who came in thanked us one time, if not 50 times. She was so happy for the food and products.”

“There was a little child that came in with his mother and said, “Mommy, look at all the food,” Neumann added.

The Cokato Area Food Shelf housed in Elim Mission Church in Cokato also donates food and vouchers to families who have a member serving in the military, such as in Iraq, food shelf coordinator Russ Irvin said.

Members of the Elim Mission Church are also preparing to travel to Mississippi with food, vouchers, and other needed items to help out the hurricane victims, Irvin noted.

Because people are giving to a variety of causes, people’s resources are spread more thinly. At the same time, more people are accessing the food shelves, and many food shelves are in need of basically all supplies, Neumann said, and Bruckbauer agreed.

Although many food shelves’ supplies are low, because of generosity, food shelves have been able to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for food.

Assistant manger Gilmer Rodriguez of the Wright County food shelf in Waverly noted that its food supply has remained ample due to many donations from area schools, churches, local businesses, and community members.

Irvin also noted that the Cokato Area Food Shelf has also kept up with the growing demand.

“We are very blessed. The Cokato area residents give. When a need is put out, people respond to it,” Irvin shared.

Along with various church and school groups, there are many different organizations, such as Girl and Boy Scout troops, that help in numerous ways to keep the food shelves running.

The McLeod County food shelves have more than 40 volunteers who help in some capacity, Neumann noted.

And help comes in a variety of ages, as well.

“Last week, in Glencoe, some preschool students and their teacher walked over and put bags of food in the boxes,” Neumann said.

Holy Trinity Schools in Winsted sends over four students monthly to help unload food from the Second Harvest truck, Neumann explained.

Second Harvest, which is a federally funded warehouse in St. Paul, has an inventory of products that entities, such as food shelves, can order from at a much cheaper price, and the items are then delivered by truck, Bruckbauer noted.

Mackenthun’s grocery store in Waconia donates bread weekly to the Waconia food shelf. In November, the store and the food shelf hold a “stuff-a-truck” food drive, which people and organizations can donate to. At the end of the food drive, the truck delivers the donated items to area food shelves in Carver County, Bruckbauer explained.

“The ‘stuff-a-truck’ is our biggest food drive of the year,” Bruckbauer said.

Among other school and club donations and food drives, Bruckbauer also noted that the Catholic school in Waconia holds a food drive once a month on a Friday, and if a student brings a donation, he or she doesn’t have to wear the school uniform that day.

There’s always a need for volunteers and help in some capacity, Neumann emphasized.

While many of the food shelves, such as the Wright County food shelf and the Waconia United Food Shelf, are under the umbrella of another organization, such as Community Action Program (CAP), other food shelves, such as the McLeod County food shelves and the Cokato Area Food Shelf, are their own entity and run independently.

“We are independent of another organization, such as CAP, so we always have to make sure we have enough money to pay the rent and the electric bills,” Neumann said.

Although the food shelf in Waconia is under the umbrella of CAP, 100 percent of the donations are used for the Waconia food shelf, and cash donations go directly to an account in a Waconia bank, food shelf coordinator Marty Cramer explained

“To receive non-profit status, the food shelf runs under CAP,” Cramer said.

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