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Filling the need for food

Deanna Schultz of Miltona was one of many volunteers helping set up for last Thursday’s Mobile Food Drop. (Echo Press)1 / 4
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The food isn’t distributed until 11 a.m., but last Thursday, just after 9 a.m., about 50 people were already in line.

It is first come, first served and the only requirement is that you must be a resident of Douglas County.

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The Mobile Food Drop – a monthly, free food outreach effort – is in its fifth year in Alexandria.

On average, 230 families/households, totaling about 742 people, are served by the program each month. Thirty percent are children.

On Thursday, 170 families/households were served – a total of 552 people from Douglas County.

After each event, people go home with 60 to 80 pounds of food per household.

“We’re sending people home with a substantial amount of food,” said Tabitha Kremmin, community impact/building connections coordinator for the United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties.

She’s in charge of coordinating each food drop event – thousands of pounds of food picked up by hundreds of people all in a matter of a few hours – and she laughingly admitted, “It’s as orderly as mass chaos can be. It takes a lot of people to pull off an event like this for sure.”

Each month, there are 40 to 50 volunteers doing a variety of tasks – everything from unloading the truck to getting people signed in.

“There’s a lot happening; it’s probably overwhelming looking from the outside, but it’s really incredible how it all comes together,” Kremmin said.

DISTRIBUTION DAY 8 a.m. By 8 a.m., during the Mobile Food Drop last Thursday, volunteers were in place to direct traffic and keep the flow of people and vehicles moving smoothly and safely.

Organizers and volunteers have been at the drop site, New Life Christian Church in Alexandria, all morning setting up tables, chairs and readying for the semi-truck of food to arrive.

“We don’t know any quantities of anything that’s coming for that actual day. When the truck arrives, I get the invoice and that’s when we know what we have to distribute,” Kremmin said.

North Country Food Bank distributes the products for the Mobile Food Drop, mostly surplus food, overstock items, bulk and close-dated items. Henry’s Foods and other community partners also contribute. The United Way’s Community Impact Coalition pays a fee per pound of food, which offsets the cost of transportation and handling – about $3,000 per month.

9 a.m. Registration starts at 9 a.m.

“You don’t have to show an ID, you don’t have to show proof of address or anything like that. We really just believe that if you’re coming there, you have self-identified yourself to need some extra food and it’s our job to provide that for you,” Kremmin said.

The number of people who show up is consistent through the summer and winter months.

The number of families taking part spikes around back-to-school time.

“I think there’s a lot of cost there and people are feeling the crunch of it more. We also see that around the holidays,” Kremmin said.

“We do have great resources in our community [to battle hunger], but I think it takes a lot of different resources to supplement one another to meet families’ needs,” Kremmin explained. “It’s our goal to supplement what’s already happening.”

11 a.m. By 11 a.m. everything’s set up.

There are two volunteers at each table and they’re in charge of getting the food and goods unpacked and setting it up in a way to distribute it as people go through.

Kremmin said, “Volunteers come from everywhere, it’s incredible.”

During each Mobile Food Drop event, 15,000 to 20,000 pounds of food are distributed – items like potatoes, carrots, noodles, canned tomatoes, dried beans, apples, cereal and facial tissues.

Numbers are called and a dozen or so families at a time go through the food-distribution line. Then, they head out the door and drop their food off on a pallet while they bring their vehicle up to have their food loaded and then be on their way.

1 p.m. Around 1 p.m., any food leftover is boxed up and distributed for emergency food needs from the United Way office, and if it’s not used there, it’s brought back for distribution the following month.

Volunteers start vacuuming and rearranging tables.

“We want to be able to show up, get the event done and leave the church looking like nothing ever happened,” Kremmin said.

AT THE END OF THE DAY Later that afternoon, Kremmin crunches numbers back at the United Way office and reflects.

“It’s a really powerful experience to see so many people come together for the good of one another,” Kremmin said.

Amy Chaffins

Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.

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