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Food shelf hit hard by economy

Hubbard County Food Shelf volunteers Ruth Lange and Jim Lange were at work sorting produce this week, the site seeing more families and senior citizens requesting food.

The Hubbard County Food Shelf is facing a double-edged sword this year - the economy.

While unemployment, home foreclosures and other issues are pushing up usage, the stagnant economy has donations heading downward.

In comparison with the same point last year - four weeks into the drive - food donations are down 3,000 pounds and monetary gifts are $22,000 shy of 2010's amount.

The drive runs through Friday, April 8. The donations at the conclusion will determine the amount the food shelf will receive through Minnesota FoodShare.

Last year, 26,300 pounds of food and $60,240 were donated during the Hubbard County Food Shelf drive.

Compounding the fiscal concern is a likely loss of $10,000 in federal funding the food shelf realized last year.

Meanwhile, the need has risen considerably, food shelf director Dave Long said.

Beginning in October 2010, food shelves were required to distribute food to families and individuals a minimum of once a month, upon request, if they received government surplus food. Distribution at the Park Rapids site had been four times a year.

Food shelf usage was up 36 percent from October through December because of the change.

While usage poundage has not been computed yet in 2011 - "we've been too busy getting the new food shelf operational" - Long said 60 percent of the 811 people served in January were children.

A commensurate number of area residents were served in February, with approximately two-thirds of them children.

The USDA is requiring a larger facility, the Hubbard County Food Shelf in the process of moving its facility to the former 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, accommodating larger freezers and refrigerators.

Last year, the Hubbard County Food Shelf had 3,000 family visits; that could conceivably quadruple with the new regulations, Long said. The majority of clients are referred via Mahube.

A third of the clients arrive from outside Park Rapids. The food shelf also serves clients arriving from Cass, Becker and Wadena counties. The majority of non-Park Rapids residents come from Akeley, Nevis, Laporte, Menahga, Lake George and Cass Lake, Long said.

The food shelf makes a weekly delivery to Ponsford.

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

Food drop-off locations in March and April include churches, banks, schools and grocery stores.

Preferred donations include:

n Canned - fruit, tomatoes, stew, vegetables, soup, meats, kidney beans, pork and beans and fruit juice.

n 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.

n 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 in Crookston.

The food shelf is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The Hubbard County Food Shelf is an all-volunteer enterprise. None of the money collected is used for salaries. A small percentage is used for heat, light and insurance. Water and sewer are donated by the city and no real estate taxes are assessed.

Akeley-Nevis food shelf

The Akeley-Nevis Food Shelf is mirroring the Park Rapids site. Usage is up and they are also headed for a new location.

Volunteers are expected to have completed the move to the Akeley Regional Community Center by week's end.

To date, 64 Akeley and Nevis families have requested assistance, and that number is increasing by one to two families a week, according to George Lueck who spearheads the distribution site. Family size appears to be on the increase, he said.

"We are putting out a ton of food a week," Lueck said.

In some instances, both the husband and wife are working, but not making enough to make ends meet, he said. No questions are asked of clients.

"They prefer not to be here," he said. But circumstances make it necessary. "They need to feed the kids."

Vouchers are not required but clients are asked to bring proof of residency, a utility bill, for example. Clients are asked to limit visits to twice a month, unless circumstances deem more are necessary.

The food shelf at the ARCC can be accessed on the southwest side of the building, the gym door. Signs will be posted inside. The distribution site is open from 9 to 11 a.m. every Tuesday.

Monetary and food donations are welcome. Checks can be made to the Akeley Community Food Shelf and sent c/o George Lueck to 31510 County 23, Akeley, MN 56433.