Food Shelf sees big jump in users as grocery prices rise

Chili Challenge March 1 will help meet the need

Hubbard County Food Shelf director Bob Hansen said the first three days they were open this month they served 110 households, leaving many shelves bare. Higher grocery prices are one reason behind the increased use. The Chili Challenge on March 1 at the American Legion is the food shelf's biggest fundraiser.
Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise

High grocery prices are bringing more people to the Hubbard County Food Shelf.

Located at 308 Pleasant Ave. S. in Park Rapids, the food shelf has seen a big jump in use recently. Food shelf director Bob Hansen sees the needs firsthand.

“The first three days we were open in February we had around 110 households come in,” he said.

Hansen compared food shelf use in 2021 to 2022 and found numbers were up in all areas.

“With the cost of groceries and everything else going up, it’s especially hard for the seniors on fixed incomes, large families and people with low incomes,” he said. “They are being hit the hardest.”


During 2022, the food shelf gave out 378,530 pounds of food. That fed 12,324 individuals in 4,200 households. In comparison, in 2021 the food shelf gave out 330,253 pounds of food, serving 9,667 individuals from 3,082 households.

The number of seniors 65 and older using the food shelf jumped by 35.8%. In 2022, 2,083 seniors used the food shelf compared with 1,534 in 2021.

“It was very moving to me when I saw an older person who came in to register and while he was waiting to get his food he was sitting right out there in the front room eating a banana and a roll,” he said. “Knowing we were helping that person have enough to eat, that is why we do this.”

In 2022 there were 3,782 children aged 17 and under who received food. That was up 23.3% from the 3,068 children who received food in 2021.

Each household receives a monthly allotment of food that depends on the size of the family. “Households of 1-2 individuals get around 55 to 70 pounds of food, households of 3-5 around 90 to 120 pounds and households above that get 150 to 175 pounds,” he said.

The food shelf receives some government surplus products and orders food at greatly discounted prices from an area food bank. “Even so, we’ll spend $90,000 to $110,000 a year buying groceries at the three local grocery stores,” he said.

Area grocery stores also donate produce, bakery items and canned goods, milk and other items that are approaching their “best by” dates to the food shelf.

Chili Challenge is back

This is the 12th year for the Chili Challenge. The event will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 1 at the American Legion and is the food shelf’s biggest fundraiser.


Churches, businesses and other organizations sign up and bring their best chili recipe to serve. They also collect cash donations for the food shelf before and during the event.

Samples of chili are $1 and all proceeds go to the Hubbard County Food Shelf. The chili chef or team to raise the most money earns top honors.

Jean Ruzicka has been involved with the chili challenge since the beginning.

“We need more Chili Challenge contestants,” she said. “It’s such a fun event. The people serving chili are so creative, dressing up and coming up with a wacky name for their chili.”

Chili Challenge registration forms are available at the Park Rapids Enterprise office, located at 1011 First St. E, Suite 6, Park Rapids. Space is limited to 22 contestants. For more information, call Ruzicka at 218-652-4311.

The Chili Challenge started when Ruzicka, who was working as a reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise and has since retired, was doing a story about the food shelf.

When she came back from the interview, she couldn’t stop thinking about all of those people needing food.

Ruzicka asked her coworker Candy Parks if the Enterprise could do something to help.


“Lots of people were doing dinners, but I thought it would be fun to do something over the lunch hour,” Parks said. “We talked about doing a potluck but came up with chili. We decided to hold it the first Wednesday in March because that is the matching month for food shelves.”

”Everyone at the Enterprise helped,” Ruzicka said. “Connie Carmichael from Living at Home was also a big part of it. Over the years since it started we’ve raised over $110,000. The Chili Challenge also raised awareness of what the food shelf does.”

Since retiring, Ruzicka has served on the food shelf board and as a volunteer at the facility.

Ruzicka and Parks, who is also retired, are back as part of a committee of 10 members from various organizations planning and co-sponsoring this year’s Chili Challenge including the food shelf, the Park Rapids Enterprise, the American Legion/Disabled Veterans, De La Hunt Media, the Park Rapids Rotary and the Park Rapids Lions Club.

“It’s such a good fundraiser for the food shelf,” Parks said. “It’s a great community event. I’m happy food shelf members are spearheading it and bringing it back. You get to see a lot of your friends and neighbors. People love it. And it’s great exposure for businesses who participate and something employees can do together.

“Over the years we’ve had the fire department, banks, churches and many organizations take part. They raise funds prior and bring them to add to the proceeds that day. And 100% of the money goes to the food shelf. ”

Checks may be sent to: Hubbard County Food Shelf, 308 Pleasant Ave. South, Park Rapids, MN 56470.

For more information about using the food shelf or volunteering, call Hansen at 218-732-1282.


Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
What To Read Next
Get Local