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Food shelf usage continues to rise

The former Park Rapids Plumbing and Heating building on Pleasant Avenue will be the food shelf's new home. More room will allow the service to expand its distribution area. The move will occur in May 2011. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

If the Hubbard County Food Shelf operated as a conventional business, Standard and Poor's would be lauding its progress.

In the past 10 years, usage of the food shelf has increased annually by 10 to 15 percent.

Last year, the food shelf distributed 182 tons of food, a 36 percent increase from 2009.

"A good share of it is because of a change in government regulations," director Dave Long explained.

Beginning in October 2010, food shelves were required to distribute food to families and individuals a minimum of once a month if they received government surplus food.

Distribution had been four times a year; the Hubbard County Food Shelf board decided to limit distribution to once a month, unless referral agencies deemed a greater need.

Last year, the Hubbard County Food Shelf had 3,000 family visits. That could conceivably quadruple with the new regulations.

In 2010, $75,000 was spent on food, in addition to the USDA and local grocery store donations. Walmart donates 3,000 to 4,000 pounds a week.

In addition to broadening distribution, the USDA is requiring a larger facility. The Hubbard County Food Shelf recently acquired the 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.

"Ten years ago, we began salting away money because we knew we'd need a larger facility," Long said.

But the food shelf board anticipated this to occur five years from now.

USDA regulations put the move on the fast track, with relocation planned the first week of May.

The food shelf has received federal stimulus funds and other funding toward the $129,000 building, which has been purchased contract for deed. An additional $50,000 will be used toward renovation and purchase of appliances.

The food shelf owes approximately $60,000 for the building.

Plans call for three walk-in freezers, chest freezers and coolers/refrigerators in the new facility. The current food shelf has room for two of each.

Currently, orders for food are placed two or three times a month due to space constraints.

Tuesday, a record 28 families arrived to pick up food and other items, two tons distributed. The trend appeared to be continuing Wednesday.

Most clients are in the 20- to 40-year-old age range, Long said. "But we're seeing more seniors."

Food shelf clients are often out of work or unable to make ends meet on their incomes.

A third of the clients arrive from outside Park Rapids, Long said. The majority of non-Park Rapids residents come from Akeley, Nevis, Laporte, Menahga, Lake George and Cass Lake, he said.

The food shelf makes a weekly delivery to Ponsford.

Unlike the typical facility, the Park Rapids site is open five days a week, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., manned totally by volunteers.

Churches, businesses and organizations have stepped up annually to donate to combat hunger in Hubbard County.

The food shelf received $4,000 last year from Minnesota FoodShare, less than in past years due to the rise in the number of food shelves in Minnesota.

The increased distribution heightens the need for a successful March drive. FoodShare funds are based on the amount received in March, as is a grant from the Feinstein Foundation.

As a fundraiser for the food shelf, the Park Rapids Enterprise is hosting the second annual Chili Challenge over the noon hour Wednesday, March 2 at the Park Rapids American Legion.

Chefs/fundraisers are currently being sought for the event.

Woodcarver and food shelf volunteer Bob Landrigan has donated a loon and the Crazy Quilters a quilt for raffles.

For more information on participation, contact Jean at the Enterprise, 732-3364.