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Cash contributions down, food shelf costs increase

Lefty Anderson, commander of the Park Rapids American Legion, presents food shelf director Bob Hansen with a $1,500 donation. (Kevin Cederstrom/Enterprise)

Time is marching on for the Hubbard County Food Shelf food and funds drive.

Friday, April 7 is the deadline for reporting donations that are the basis for Minnesota FoodShare funding.

"The need is definitely there," reports food shelf director Bob Hansen. The cost of food and maintenance was up by approximately $7,000 in 2016.

But cash donations decreased by approximately the same amount.

"If this continues, we will need to cut the amount of food we purchase" and distribute, he said.

Donations of food are up slightly from last year's mid-March figures, but cash contributions are down by approximately $5,000.

"The vast majority of food and funds are raised locally," Hansen said, noting the community has traditionally responded generously.

Last year, 1,271 households were served with 21,085 individual visits. Some clients arrive monthly; others may request a voucher just once a year.

A family of four requesting assistance receives approximately 110 pounds of food. "But this may have to be reduced," he cautioned. "We will have to look at what we're buying. Meat is the most expensive."

Coborn's, Hugo's and Walmart "are fantastic supporters of the food shelf," he said of the contributions of groceries, dairy products and produce, as well as bakery goods. Between the three, approximately 226,000 pounds of food arrive to replenish Hubbard's cupboard.

Churches, schools, the post office, Wonewok, RD Offutt, St. Joseph's, civic organizations and more "step up to the plate." This year's Chili Challenge, hosted by the Park Rapids Enterprise, raised over $10,000, thanks to the esprit de corps — the cadre of culinary wizards.

Because of the ability to purchase government surplus food at a dramatically reduced cost at the North Country Food Bank in Crookston, donations of dollars are appreciated.

For some surplus food, the food shelf pays delivery charges only, at 10 cents per pound. In January, the food shelf was able to purchase a case of 36 one-pound packages of ground beef at $108, which included shipping.

A case of four gallons of milk came with a $6.36 price tag.

"But the cost is up," Hansen said, "for the same amount of food. And contributions haven't matched prior years."

Another concern is an obsolete walk-in freezer, for which parts are no longer available. Replacement cost is $12,000. A grant of $5,000 has been received, which must be used prior to June or returned.

"We are in desperate need of funds to facilitate installing of a freezer, and maintaining a cash flow to serve the clients we see," Hansen said. "We've gone through cuts," he said of eliminating the holiday food baskets a few years ago, as well as paring milk, eggs and soda crackers on the regular distribution menu. And more may be on the horizon.

"We appreciate the generosity of the community," he said of both donations and the 80 volunteers who arrive to assist throughout each month — with more needed.

"Not a cent goes to salary," Hansen emphasized.

Dawn Fishel, a retired nurse, is among the volunteers, the role she had "in the back of my mind" as she moved into her next phase of life.

Physical impairments, she said, haven't impaired her enthusiasm. "I love it. I absolutely love it. I feel honored to be here," Fishel said.

Donations may be sent to the Hubbard County Food Shelf at 308 Pleasant Ave. South, Park Rapids, 56470.

Contact Bob Hansen at 255-3538 to volunteer or for more info Hubbard County's "hunger solutions."