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Local need for food shelf has increased

Mary and Bob Berdahl are among the volunteers at the Hubbard County Food Shelf. Bob Berdahl will be arriving at the Chili Challenge with a pot of bubbling stew. (Jean Ruzicka/Enterprise)

For most, hunger is a brief experience soon satisfied with a snack or meal.

But there are children and adults in Hubbard County who face hunger without the funds to fill the cupboard and refrigerator, appetites unsatisfied.

Statewide, almost 14 percent of Minnesota households did not have enough money to buy food, according to Minnesota FoodShare. Of those who use food shelves, 47 percent of adults and 14 percent of children skip meals because there is not enough food at home.

Locally, the Hubbard County Food Shelf comes to the rescue, last year distributing 134 tons of food to area residents. This compares with 27 tons distributed 10 years ago.

"We're seeing larger families," said food shelf director Dave Long, "and seniors" in need of assistance.

Last year, the food shelf distributed 25 percent more goods than in 2008. That's on par with the state increase, which was the largest recorded upsurge in 28 years, according to Minnesota FoodShare.

A variety of circumstances send people to the food shelf. No questions are asked, but people often explain that surgery, loss of job, grandparents parenting grandchildren or other situations have prompted the need.

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

In 2009, there were about three million food shelf visits statewide and 61 million pounds of food distributed to Minnesota families by food shelves, according to Minnesota FoodShare.

In January alone, 201 families asked for assistance at the Park Rapids site, a total of 699 people.

More than 50 percent of adult food shelf visitors statewide are employed and 65 percent make less than $1,000 a month, not enough to cover their basic needs.

"The food you eat has a direct impact on how you feel, your energy level and how well you think and sleep," said Mari Willie, a registered dietitian and WIC coordinator at St. Joseph's Area Health Services.

Bodies, like a cell phone, need to be recharged, she said. "Eating good food provides our bodies with the energy we need to do everyday activities. Without good nutrition, your body is more susceptible to diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and stroke."

Children need good nutrition because their bodies are growing and developing.

She advocates avoiding the expensive chips, pop and packaged dinners and replacing them with basic foods, including fruit - "a low cost snack compared to a candy bar."

Food drive underway

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 80 volunteers distributed food, unloaded trucks, mowed the lawn, plowed the driveway and stocked the shelves.

The food shelf will be applying for an Alan Shawn Feinstein grant again this year, reporting pounds and money collected to be eligible for a minimum of $250 in funding from the Rhode Island benefactor. Last year, the food shelf was awarded a $500 grant.

Akeley seeks donations

The Akeley-Nevis Community Food Shelf, based at First Lutheran Church in Akeley, served 513 children, 982 adults and 222 seniors in 2009. Thirty-three new families were served, according to George Lueck, coordinator.

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 27,095 pounds of food were distributed, according to Lueck.

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.

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

Area youth church groups have conducted successful drives. The recently formed Greater Akeley Youth Council members are key players as are the Boy Scouts, 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.

Time to end hunger

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 shelves are able to purchase items through the regional food bank in Crookston at reduced rates.