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Area's food shelves seeing increased use

Elaine and Bob Landrigan were restocking shelves after a busy morning Thursday. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

The approaching Yuletide season is sending consumer spending into record territory.

Meanwhile in Hubbard County, food shelf patronage appears to paradoxically parallel the increase.

"We are busy, busy, busy," food shelf director Dave Long said of families and individuals seeking assistance.

"There is a lot more usage," agreed Connie Walz, Mahube office manager who acts as a referral agent. "People who haven't been here in a couple of years," she said, are now arriving for vouchers.

Hubbard County Food Shelf usage is up an estimated 40 to 50 percent from previous years, Long said.

"They don't want to be here," Walz said. But health issues, finances, loss of jobs and other circumstances spur the need. "People are moving back to be with family."

Some of the families are now requesting aid on a monthly basis. Up until last year, food shelf usage was limited to four times annually.

On average, the food shelf now assists 300 families per month, Long said, 1,000 individuals. Forty percent of the monthly beneficiaries are children, he said.

"I see it getting worse," Walz said. "I'm thankful we have such a giving community or we would not be able to meet needs." The food shelf, she said, has cut distribution amounts due to high demand.

A medium-sized family receives 150 pounds of food, Long said of a visit.

In addition, an estimated 400 turkey baskets will be distributed to families Dec. 16 as part of the Caring and Sharing and Toys for Tots Christmas programs.

Long anticipates at year's end, 450,000 pounds of food will have been distributed, a 25 percent increase from 2010. Monthly food shelf visits began in the last quarter of 2010.

Meanwhile, federal Emergency Food and Shelter Program funds were cut by 73 percent.

"Walmart has been our savior," Long said of an average of two tons of food per week being donated.

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.

And volunteers have increased in number due to the demand, 80 now arrive to serve clients at the expanded location on Pleasant Avenue.

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

Cash donations are preferred. Food can be purchased through the North Country Food Bank in Crookston at reduced prices.

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

But gifts of food are welcome.

Akeley-Nevis Food Shelf

"We're seeing new business every day," Akeley-Nevis food shelf director George Lueck said of Tuesday visitors to the site now located in the Akeley Regional Community Center.

A year ago, 700 pounds was considered a big distribution day. "Now it's 1,500 to 1,800 pounds a day," he said.

On average, families are two to four in number, but larger families seem to be on the rise, he said.

Some come in saying they are not in need of vegetables, for example, but make requests for other items.

No questions are asked of clients. And vouchers are not required, but clients are asked for 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 Akeley site purchases through the North Country Food Bank, with funds at times require dipping into savings.

But the community - individual and civic groups - steps forward. The Akeley Lions recently contributed $2,000, purchasing two truckloads of food. The fire department donates gaming proceeds. And the ARCC board has indicated they will waive rent, if 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.

Laporte Food Shelf

"We are quite proud of our food shelf," Phyllis Bunker reports of the Laporte food distribution site based in Trinity Lutheran Church.

"It's an anomaly that works. It's grown into a miracle."

The food shelf has grown during its 12-year existence, she said, as has the attitude of the people.

"Initially, everyone was very shy," she said of those seeking assistance. "Now they see each other as being in the same boat.

"It's very gratifying. I've met people I never would have met," Bunker said of her role with the food shelf, her primary "hobby."

Initially, when she took the reins, she contributed financially to make ends meet. "Now the money comes from all directions." People drop off contributions at the local grocery store and via other means for the food shelf that serves, on average, 12 families a month.

And when the church decided to expand, the food shelf was part of the floor plan.

The food shelf opens at 6 p.m. Tuesdays - "but not the fifth Tuesday."