"Ollie, Ollie, Oxen free" - here I come to find you. I loved playing hide-and-seek as a kid, but now I need everyone to come out of hiding.

March is designated as Food Shelf Month. Last year our Pine River Area Food Shelf gave out 84,389 pounds of food to your neighbors who were hungry, and the need is not going away. Sixteen first-time families came into our food shelf in January already.

March is the month we ask you for your generosity to provide the funding to operate for the year. About 4,608 people (many duplicates) were served last year. If the need continues for a family, they come back the next month.

The Pine River Area Food Shelf covers both the Pine River and Backus communities, including outlying areas. Our area has been labeled by the state of Minnesota a "food desert." This determination takes into consideration poverty levels and availability of food resources. It is tough out there for many families and tough for us to provide for them.

The good news is you are making a real difference with your donations. More good news is our area businesses donated 35,691 pounds of free food for us to distribute. At year's end, the food shelf fell short a couple thousand between costs and donations, but we had reserves to cover this.

The bad news is our air conditioner is on the fritz and needs replacement, another big expense to cover. Therefore, we need you to dig even deeper this year.

The compassion in our community and your outreach to us is lightening the load for many struggling families. You are giving these families one less item to worry about. Donations can be sent to P.O. Box 1, Pine River MN 56474. Thank you for your generosity and caring hearts.

Kathleen Stephan is a Pine River-Backus Family Center volunteer.