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Food shelf sees more people who need help

Gayle Akers arrived at the food shelf this week to seek assistance. "We ran out of food," she explained, commending the variety. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

The Hubbard County Food Shelf is once again experiencing banner business, economic doldrums fueling an increase in usage.

"We're seeing more seniors and larger families," said food shelf director Dave Long.

Last year, the food shelf distributed 20 percent more goods than in 2007, with 106 tons of food and basic necessities shared with people in need.

A variety of circumstances send people to the food shelf, eight-year volunteer Nikki Wagner said. No questions are asked, but people often explain, she said of surgery, loss of job, grandparents parenting grandchildren.

"I never thought I'd have to do this," is often heard.

A recent client gave the volunteers a hug. "She was so appreciative," volunteer Nancy Sumer said.

On a statewide basis, it's estimated food shelves are now serving double the number of people served in 1999, according to Minnesota FoodShare.

"Our poundage has quadrupled," said Long of use during the same time period. And the number of individuals served is up 250 percent.

The cost of food has also risen. The Hubbard County Food Shelf spent approximately $70,000 for food in 2008, compared with $53,000 the year before.

In January, a record 232 families arrived at the food shelf seeking assistance, a third of them arriving from outside the city.

Since 2000, the number of Minnesota children living in extreme poverty has doubled. Minnesota's children are growing poorer faster than the nation's children overall, according to Minnesota FoodShare.

"We ran out of food," Gayle Akers of Laporte explained of her appearance at the food shelf last week. She and her husband are disabled, and raising a 12-year-old daughter.

"This is wonderful," she said of the variety of food.

Food drive to begin

The annual food drive begins March 1. The money and food collected are the basis for Minnesota FoodShare local funding.

The state of the economy is a double-edged sword for food shelfs. If donations of food and money drop in March, the amount received from Minnesota FoodShare will also decrease, Long said. And the need will continue to rise.

Cash donations for the Hubbard County Food Shelf may be mailed to Dave Long, 15701 Essex Rd., Park Rapids, MN 56470.

Hubbard County Food Shelf drop-off locations include Park Rapids churches, banks, schools, grocery stores, the hospital and Innovis Health.

The Park Rapids food shelf location is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, one of the few in the state with the extended, user-friendly hours.

Last year, the food shelf's corps of 60 volunteers logged 2,800 hours.

The food shelf will be applying for an Alan Shawn Feinstein grant this year, reporting pounds and money collected to be eligible for a minimum of $250 in funding from the Rhode Island benefactor.

Sites in Akeley, Menahga

The Akeley-Nevis Community Food Shelf, based at First Lutheran Church in Akeley, served 2,228 "individuals" last year, 712 "households."

The distribution was up nearly 28 percent from the previous year.

The numbers reflect multiple visits by many families and individuals; the food shelf goods are available to area residents twice a month - and more in the event of an emergency. Last year 36,278 pounds of food were distributed, according to coordinator George Lueck.

"It's growing every day we're open," he said. Last year, 91 families were served; 49 families have used the Akeley-Nevis Community Food Shelf to date, with seven new families arriving in a week's time.

The Akeley-Nevis Community Food Shelf is also a member of Minnesota FoodShare, and eligible to purchase items through the regional food bank in Crookston at reduced rates.

And community churches and organizations rally to raise food and funds for the cause.

"Bethany Lutheran has been outstanding," Lueck said of the Nevis congregation.

And Our Lady of the Pines' youth-driven Super Bowl Sunday collected 350 pounds of food and monetary donations.

The recently formed Greater Akeley Youth Council will be conducting a food drive in March, heading out to the townships to seek donations.

"Boy Scouts also do a great job," Lueck said.

With the economic slump people are reaching out to offer assistance, he said. "There's a closeness in a rural area. People are hurting, but they don't want to come to the food shelf," he said. "We reach out to those people."

Area churches formed UCAN (United Churches of Akeley and Nevis) to provide information on programs such as fuel assistance. Volunteers interview people needing aid and inform them of programs for which they may be eligible, Lueck said.

The Akeley-Nevis Community Food Shelf is open from 9 to 11 a.m. Tuesdays. Clients select the food; it's not pre-boxed.

Donations for the Akeley-Nevis Community Food Shelf may be sent to First Lutheran Church, PO Box 98, Akeley, MN 56433 or dropped off at churches in Nevis and Akeley.

The Menahga Food Shelf is located at 120 1st St. NE and is open from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays. Families may request assistance four times a year.

The Menahga Food Shelf mailing address is PO Box 98, Menahga, MN 56464. The school and area churches will be participating in the drive.

Time to end hunger

Minnesota FoodShare encourages businesses and civic groups to organize and conduct food shelf drives. Kids have proven to be enthusiastic supporters of the initiative.

Requested canned goods are fruit, tomato products, stew, vegetables, soup, meats, pork and beans, kidney beans, tuna, salmon and juice.

Dry items and mixes needed are Hamburger Helper, Jell-O, pudding, hot cereal, instant potatoes, pasta products, macaroni and cheese, biscuit mix, cake mix, rice, sugar, crackers and cookies.

Other items that may be donated are peanut butter, pancake syrup, jams and jellies.

Hygiene items such as bar soap, toilet tissue, toothpaste and shampoo may be contributed.

Monetary gifts are the most beneficial because the food shelfs are able to purchase items through the regional food bank in Crookston at reduced rates.

Dry cereal can be purchased from the regional food bank for 22 cents per box, Crest toothpaste for 16 cents and granola bars for a mere 1.6 cents each - 50 cents if "store bought."

Venison is no longer being distributed by food shelves due to fear of lead poisoning from the ammunition. But a petition is circulating asking the USDA and DNR to initiate a workable venison distribution program.

The petition is available for signatures at the Hubbard County Food Shelf.