HJ/EDEnterprise Dispatch, Dec. 12, 2005

Food shelf bulges with DC generosity

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Cokato food shelf volunteers are getting ready for their Christmas tradition of preparing food baskets. Russell Irvin, Cokato food shelf co-coordinator, said the DC area is a generous community.

“We’ve got a giving community,” Irvin said. “They come through.”

Irvin recalled a time the food shelf nearly ran out of toilet paper. Toilet paper isn’t food so people often forget it’s needed too. As soon as the word got out the food shelf was running low on it, the community responded.

So far this year, the food shelf has served 640 people in 200 families. Irvin estimated about 60 percent of those were under 18 years of age.

Most recipients are families that have suffered a misfortune, such as a sick or hurt family member, or the recipient is handicapped. “Some need it just because they need it,” Irvin said.

Irvin expects that with the high price of fuel this winter, there will be even more recipients.

Recently, the food shelf has been delivering food to families in which someone has been deployed to Iraq. It has been his number one priority this year to help the families of those in Iraq, he said.

Irvin, a retired carpet installer, remembered when a family lost their home in a fire. The food shelf volunteers asked them how they could help. “They said they needed everything,” Irvin said.

Putting together a relief package for them was one of Irvin’s most satisfying time in the four years he has been volunteering at the food shelf, he said.

About 70 percent of the food shelf donations come from the Dassel Cokato schools. The rest comes from all the churches in the area, including Dassel, and private individuals. The Evangelical Covenant Church of Dassel has its own food shelf, Irvin said.

Some individuals and businesses donate large sums of money. Recently a donor gave the food shelf shares of stock. “That’s quite a big sum. I dare say that’s the biggest I’ve seen. He was very interested in our food shelf and how we operated it,” Irvin said.

The food shelf uses money to provide vouchers for fresh food from the Marketplace in Cokato. An individual or couple receives a $20 voucher good the same day as they pick up their food from the food shelf. The voucher is for milk, eggs, meat, vegetables, fruit and bread from the store, Irvin said.

A family of three will receive a $30 voucher, family of four, $40 voucher; and a family of five or more, $50 voucher, he said.

Also, the food shelf doesn’t have space for diapers, so if the family includes a baby, the voucher can be used for diapers too, he said.

The food shelf used to distribute fresh produce and meat along with canned and dry goods, but it became a hassle. Some families received hamburger when they expected chicken and vice versa. The voucher system has made the process much simpler, Irvin said.

The Marketplace also donates dry goods to the food shelf in addition to processing the vouchers. This year the food shelf has given out $6,500 in vouchers, he said.

Recipients also need soap, shampoo and detergents, so non-food items that aren’t donated are bought with the money the food shelf receives. Often dentists donate toothpaste and toothbrushes. When those are unavailable, the food shelf buys them.

Currently, the food shelf is bulging with food. “It’s fun to work with when you have it,” Irvin said.

Food is brought in by school bus, trailer and pick up truck.

Irvin’s wife, Beverly, helps out by writing thank you notes to donors and keeping track of the funds. She recently retired from State Bank of Cokato.

Hurricane victims

On Sunday, Dec. 18, though, Irvin will fly to Mississippi with about 20 other volunteers to distribute food to Hurricane Katrina victims.

Even if no one is working at the Cokato food shelf, donations can be left on the table outside the door, Irvin said.

Usually, Irvin and the other co-coordinator, Isabelle Mattson, take calls on Thursday from recipients registering to pick up a box of food. Recipients can get food from the facility three times every six months to a year, he said.

Irvin, Mattson and other volunteers pack the boxes Thursday afternoons. They put pancake mix and syrup in every box they pack, so these are the two items the food shelf always needs, Irvin said.

A typical family’s box will be packed with a cake mix, Jello or pudding, macaroni and cheese kit, noodles, canned fruit and vegetables, peanut butter and jelly, crackers, cereal, and dinner kits such as Hamburger Helper. If the family has children, the volunteers will add a pack of microwave popcorn or box of graham crackers as a treat, he said.

If someone in the recipient family likes to bake, volunteers will pack a can of evaporated milk. Otherwise, most of the recipient families don’t use evaporated milk. The food shelf donates the surplus cans of evaporated milk to Sharing and Caring Hands of Minneapolis, Irvin said.

The filled boxes are tagged with the family’s name and how many are in the recipient family. On Friday, the families come to pick up their food boxes, he said.

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