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Local food shelves prep for cold weather, holidays

As colder weather sets in, local food shelves are preparing for increased food needs and holiday dinners.

Hackensack Area Community Food Shelf

Cheri Westphal of the Hackensack Area Community Food Shelf based out of Share and Care said in an interview that the food shelf has seen an increase in food needs. She said the shelf served 233 family units in the last month. She also said that the increase has been constant, and does not appear to be due to any increase in need during the colder months.

“We are probably more than 50 percent over last year,” Westphal said.

To make things worse, Second Harvest, the service used by the Hackensack Food Shelf and other shelves across the area is facing a shortage in foods.

“It’s hard to buy certain things now, because while we buy certain products from Second Harvest they are down in donations too. So, we are finding we have to go elsewhere to buy certain things,” Westphal said.

As a result, the shelf has recently been purchasing from Food Services of America and Costco in order to make up for shortages at Second Harvest.

The Hackensack Food Shelf is facing shortages locally as well, specifically meat.

In spite of shortages, Westphal’s food shelf has been lucky in some respects. The Hackensack Municipal Liquor Store has won a contest by Coors Beer for the second time in three years. In the contest liquor stores compete against one another to see who can raise the most donations of money and food for the needy. And because the Hackensack Municipal Liquor Store raised the most, the Hackensack Food Shelf also wins.

It is using these extra donations so that the food shelf will be able to provide full Thanksgiving dinners for those in need. Providing holiday meals for those in need is a common practice throughout many local food shelves.

Pine River Area Food Shelf

The Pine River Area Food Shelf is also facing an increase in need, though the increase has been recent, and sudden.

“I haven’t heard anything until the last two weeks. I’m not sure what’s going on unless it has to do with the impact on the food stamp program. The SNAP program,” said Jodi Perry, Food Shelf Coordinator.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, is a federal program used to provide low income individuals and families with funds to purchase food. As of Nov. 1, large cuts were made to the program due to the expiration of a boost from the 2009 stimulus bill and the lack of agreement among legislators in passing a new farm bill.

Due to these cuts Perry expects to see even more of an increase in families in need just in time for the holidays.

“We have had people already telling us they have noticed the change,” Perry said. “All we can do is wait and see what happens. I think the trickle down effect will start the first of November and even more if they are going to cut back on the SNAP program. It’s going to really have a big impact on people.”

Perry also said that the shelf traditionally sees an increase during the colder months due to layoffs among those who work outside in such fields as construction.

“Those usually are laid off, though we do see an increase coming in November and through the winter months. I can’t say what that’s going to look at right now,” Perry said.

Perry said that her food shelf served 133 household units in October alone. Many of those household units are families with two working parents who still cannot afford to meet some household needs. Others are the elderly who cannot afford to live off of social security.

The Pine River Area Food Shelf also gives out dinner kits for the holidays, though this year the shelf will be giving out vouchers for turkey which can be redeemed at Godfrey’s in Backus or Our Family in Pine River during a certain time period. The Pine River Food Shelf is open Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Lakes Area Food Shelf, Pequot Lakes

Don Messick of the Lakes Area Food Shelf said that they do not typically see the same drastic increase in customers during colder months. The shelf served 270 families during the month of October and 214 during September, but fluctuations like these are often typical at food shelves. He said what growth they have seen has been in the number of families coming to the food shelf.

Messick said that the food shelf will be buying turkeys for their holiday meal boxes locally. Customers can also expect vegetables, cranberry sauce, and various other items to make their holiday dinners complete. All of this is made possible by generous local donations, many coming from churches.

“Our main sponsors are the churches of Nisswa and Pequot, so we are going to our churches asking for extra help for thanksgiving. We give a turkey and a meal to all our clients. So, we’re searching for money for Thanksgiving,” Messick Said.

The Lakes Area Food Shelf in Pequot Lakes is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon except on holidays.

Crosslake Food Shelf

According to Crosslake Food Shelf Director/Coordinator Doris Mezzenga, her food shelf is also preparing for an increase in need during the colder months.

“Definitely an increase. We had seven new families last month,” Mezzenga said. “Seven new families, which means they have never been to the food shelf before.”

Mezzenga said it seems like families have to choose between paying heating bills or buying food during the winter time. As a result, her food shelf sees an increase in customers around that time.

The shelf served 102 families in the month of October. She said that her customers have not yet reacted to cuts in the SNAP program, but she expects that they will soon. She also said that the food shelf is ready with generous donations from Reeds Market, the Pequot Lakes SuperValu and many Crosslake residents. It is with the help of these individuals that they are able to provide holiday meals much like other food shelves.

“We always make sure that our people have a turkey. They’ll get turkey, potatoes, pumpkin pie and cranberries. We always make sure they have all the fixings for a Thanksgiving dinner,” Mezzenga said.

Mezzenga also thanked the volunteers that support the food shelf.

The Crosslake Food Shelf is open the first and third Friday of every month from 9 a.m. to noon. They accept donations of money and food. Food can be dropped off at 34212 County Road 3, Crosslake, and Money can be mailed to P.O. Box 253, Crosslake, MN, 56442.

Longville Food Shelf

Toni Sausman, Longville Food Shelf Manager, says that they are expecting to see their numbers of people served swell during the colder months, though she said that is typical.

The shelf serves an average of 100 households per month. Most of those served are working poor or elderly.

The Longville Food Shelf also gives out holiday meals.

“We put together everything they need for a holiday meal. They get a turkey, they get vegetables, fruit, they get dressing, everything for the holidays. We do the same thing at Christmas,” Sausman said.

The Longville Food Shelf is open the first Thursday of every month and every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.