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Food shelves seeing new visitors

Area food shelves are reporting an increase in new clients, though reasons appear to differ from location to location. Some local shelves have located as many as seven new clients, though the average is slightly smaller. "We see probably three or...

Roger Hoplin, Bites Restaurant owner and local food connoseiur had his first ever tamale at the Pine River Area Food Shelf and Pine River-Backus Family Center open house. The general public was invited on Feb. 15 to tour the new food shelf and sample the Family Center's future fund raising tamales. Photo by Travis Grimler
Roger Hoplin, Bites Restaurant owner and local food connoseiur had his first ever tamale at the Pine River Area Food Shelf and Pine River-Backus Family Center open house. The general public was invited on Feb. 15 to tour the new food shelf and sample the Family Center's future fund raising tamales. Photo by Travis Grimler

Area food shelves are reporting an increase in new clients, though reasons appear to differ from location to location.

Some local shelves have located as many as seven new clients, though the average is slightly smaller.

"We see probably three or four new households come in each month to check in and come for the very first time," said Jodi Perry, Pine River Area Food Shelf coordinator.

These new clients are individuals and families that have never come to the local food shelf before, meaning they are either new to the area or newly in need. Perry said loss of a local business may have contributed in a general increase in clients.

"When ALCO closed down, that had an impact," Perry said. "We've seen that. We've seen some of the people there coming over. That's what happens when you have a small town to begin with. Then a business closes down. That has a big impact on everybody."

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Perry also reported what appears to be an overall increase in numbers, though she said it is hard to tell since the food shelf has changed the way it tracks clients.

"We probably will get better numbers," Perry said. "Last year we weren't tracking it quite properly. We were tracking households and if they came in and got a second box we were also tracking them. This year we are tracking every person that sets foot in the food shelf. If they come in, get bread and produce, we mark the size of that family every time they come in. Our numbers are going to be up, and it's probably up from what it was last year."

The Pine River Area Food Shelf recently made a major move from a church to a more centrally located downtown space. Perry anticipates a change in numbers because of the move and the increase in offerings, but said it was too early to say how big a change. Most of the service goes to combined families, though the size of those combined families is down from 2014. The shelf has also seen an increase in senior citizens. Perry said they have served about 40 senior citizens compared to 25 in the previous year.

In Hackensack, one food shelf reports that a growing large employer is attracting workers to the area who are bringing their families. Those families, in turn, are requesting assistance.

"I think it's jobs," said Cheri Westphal of the Hackensack Area Community Food Shelf. "I think they have come here because we have Mann Lake Bee Supply, and unless two people are working in a household, you can't make ends meet, it seems like. They need a little help, and I think that's why we are seeing an increase here. We are getting more families in now."

In 2014, Westphal said the shelf saw an increase in need among the elderly, though this year they have seen more young families.

"The Hackensack Food Shelf this year has served 714 families, 1,794 people total, and we gave away 42,971 pounds of food," Westphal said.

The Lakes Area Food Shelf in Pequot Lakes served 238,053 pounds of food to roughly 320 families in 2014. Of the 7,563 individuals served, nearly 3,400 of them were children.

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Food shelf manager Carey Rasinski believes that number of people served is higher than it was 2013, but she was unsure.

"You can have eight new families in one month and the next month only two, but have more people come in the second month than the first," Rasinski said. "We have sat down and tried to figure it out, but it gives us a headache."

Doris Mezzenga, manager of the Crosslake Food Shelf, indicated that the 90 families the food shelf serves per month is a fair amount higher than the previous year. She also said the clientele - from Crosslake, Fifty Lakes, Breezy Point, Ossippee and Emily - is mainly composed of middle-aged couples with children.

Local generosity has been helping to keep these shelves working in light of these increases. In Pine River, the food shelf has increased its capabilities through purchase of a commercial cooler and a commercial freezer through Crow Wing Power Community Impact Grant. To make room for the new equipment, the shelf relocated and began planning to share space with the Pine River-Backus Family Center to sell tamales as a funding source for the family center.

In Hackensack, the food shelf has found great success in cookie sales. Last year, the shelf sold 2,071 dozen cookies to help fund the shelf.

"People like to donate money that way because they get something in return," Westphal said.

The Lakes Area Food Shelf recently received two donations from charitable organizations, which allowed them to add on to their back area and counter, as well as purchase a new walk-in freezer, in what Rasinski called an "unbelievable" showing of generosity.

Crosslake's food shelf, Mezzenga said, is able to rely primarily on monetary donations from the Crosslake community, as they are able to purchase goods at a significantly lower price than from local grocery stores.

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"The people in Crosslake area are very, very generous," Mezzenga said. "We don't have to do a lot of fundraising. We are very fortunate."

All Minnesota food shelves are expected to make a big push for donations in March for the annual Minnesota Foodshare Month. The donations food shelves receive in March will determine how much additional donations those shelves will receive from the Minnesota Foodshare program.

"It is our biggest income producer of the year," said Gary Hasse, Lakes Area Food Shelf president of the board. "We solicit donations from organizations, businesses, individuals, churches that belong to our food shelf organization."

"The impact of everyone pooling together at the same time makes a difference," Perry said.

Local shelves are encouraging high demand, non-perishable, nutritious foods like peanut butter, cereal, tuna, rice, soup, canned fruit or vegetables, juice, pasta, milk and coffee. Non-food essentials are also appreciated, but money ultimately goes farther for the food shelves.

"We've been seeing more food donations, which is good. We always like to see those potatoes from the potato factory, but money goes further. Money buys more," Westphal said.

Among local food drives is the Hackensack "Pack the Pews" campaign from March 20-22 when families will be encouraged to bring donations to church. Emily's, and other food shelves, are hosting annual food shelf fundraisers throughout the month. Contact your local food shelf for food drop off locations.

Family Center Director Leslie Bouchonville dishes up some steaming tamales for Dennis Bauman of Pine River. The Family Center and Pine River Area Food Shelf hosted an open house with tours of the new food shelf location and samples of tamales for anyone who stopped in on Feb. 15. Photo by Travis Grimler
Family Center Director Leslie Bouchonville dishes up some steaming tamales for Dennis Bauman of Pine River. The Family Center and Pine River Area Food Shelf hosted an open house with tours of the new food shelf location and samples of tamales for anyone who stopped in on Feb. 15. Photo by Travis Grimler

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