March food drive is under way statewide for area food shelves
On a statewide basis in 2010, visits to food shelves on average increased by 14 percent.
Last year, Hubbard County Food Shelf distribution was up 36 percent, 182 tons of food given to households lacking sufficient funds to buy food.
While the bump is indicative of the economy, it also reflects a change in government regulations.
Beginning in October 2010, food shelves were required to distribute food to families and individuals a minimum of once a month if they received government surplus food.
Distribution at the Hubbard County Food Shelf had been four times a year, per family or individual.
The food shelf board decided to limit distribution to once a month, unless referral agencies deemed a greater need.
Last year, the Hubbard County Food Shelf had 3,000 family visits. That could conceivably quadruple with the new regulations, food shelf director Dave Long said.
The estimation is notable in that food shelf usage over the past 10 years at the Park Rapids site has grown from 41 tons in 2000 to 182 tons last year.
This compares with the statewide average that has tripled over the past decade.
Hunger touches people of every age group. Statewide, 56 percent of food shelf visitors are families with children and 20 percent are seniors.
Children in Hubbard County and statewide represent about half of those served at food shelves.
But even with the assistance, 47 percent of adults and 14 percent of children skip meals because there is not enough food at home, Minnesota FoodShare reports.
Statewide, more than 50 percent of adult food shelf visitors are employed and 65 percent make less than $1,000 a month, insufficient to cover basic needs.
In 2010, $75,000 was spent on food at the Hubbard County Food Shelf, augmenting USDA and local grocery store donations. Walmart delivers 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of food a week.
In addition to broadening distribution, the USDA is requiring a larger facility. The Hubbard County Food Shelf recently acquired the Park Rapids Plumbing and Heating building on the third block of Pleasant Avenue. The new facility is 75 percent larger than the building on 3rd Street east.
While the food shelf is solvent, the food shelf board anticipated relocation would occur five years from now.
USDA regulations put the move on the fast track, with the move planned the first week of May.
Plans call for three walk-in freezers, chest freezers and coolers/refrigerators in the new facility. The current food shelf has room for two of each.
In January, 38,000 pounds of food were distributed, up 18 percent from the same period a year ago.
Most clients are in the 20- to 40-year-old age range, Long said. "But we're seeing more seniors."
Food shelf clients are often out of work or unable to make ends meet on their incomes. An increase in larger families and grandparents parenting grandchildren has been noted.
A third of the clients arrive from outside Park Rapids, Long said. The majority of non-Park Rapids residents come from Akeley, Nevis, Laporte, Menahga, Lake George and Cass Lake, he said.
The food shelf makes a weekly delivery to Ponsford.
Unlike the typical facility, the Park Rapids site is open five days a week, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., manned totally by volunteers.
Churches, businesses and organizations have stepped up annually to donate to combat hunger in Hubbard County.
The increased distribution heightens the need for a successful March drive. FoodShare funds are based on the amount received in March, as is a grant from the Feinstein Foundation.
All proceeds from Wednesday's Chili Challenge, hosted by the Park Rapids Enterprise, will benefit the food shelf.
Cash donations may also be mailed to Dave Long, 15701 Essex Rd, Park Rapids, MN 56470.
Monetary gifts are beneficial because the food shelf can purchase items through the regional food bank in Crookston at reduced rates.
Preferred food and non-food donations include:
Canned - fruit, tomatoes, stew, vegetables, soup, meats, kidney beans, pork and beans and fruit juice.
Other - Hamburger Helper, Jello or pudding, hot cereal, instant potatoes, peanut butter, macaroni and cheese, pasta, Bisquick, cake mix, rice, powdered milk, sugar, crackers, pancake syrup, cookies and jelly.
Non-food items - bar soap, toilet tissue, toothpaste and shampoo.
Donation of dry cereal is discouraged because it's significantly less expensive at the food bank.
The food drive runs from March 1 through Tuesday, April 8.