March Campaign doubles food shelf donations this month
The local food shelf in Alexandria began humbly in the attic of the Emmanuel Episcopal Church 30 years ago. As years passed, need grew so great that a new building was built on Lake Street. During the month of March, residents have an opportunity to feed that growing need doubly.
The 2013 Minnesota FoodShare March Campaign is well under way. Contributions to the more than 300 food shelves across the state are matched $1 for each $1 or pound of food donated.
Mike Syverson with the Douglas County Outreach Food Shelf explained that each food shelf is given a portion of funds raised during the campaign based on the amount they raised.
"In 2011, we received 28,652 pounds of items and raised $46,676 in donations," Syverson said.
Eight volunteers work throughout the day acting much like personal shoppers. Some days they can walk up to 20 families through the neatly arranged aisles of pastas, frozen meats, canned goods, fresh produce and personal care items. A volunteer pool of more than 30 people ensures that someone will always be there to assist.
Shelves are a little more full in March, thanks to the campaign. Syverson said that after the holidays, donations drop slightly.
"A vast majority of our donations are from local folks," Syverson said as he opened a cooler full of hamburger provided by Pete's County Market. "A lot, if not donated, is offered either free or at reduced rates."
The list of donors contains many local churches, schools and organizations, some contributors Syverson credited are: Target, Caribou Coffee, Pete's County Market, Elden's Fresh Foods, Sons of Norway, Women's Club of Alexandria, Mid-States Hydraulic and Machine, Shalom Lutheran Church, St. Mary's Church, First Lutheran Church, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) and Papa Murphy's.
Syverson noted that on days when KFC and Papa Murphy's donations are available, they don't last very long. While donations will not be turned away, Syverson said, the organization tends to stay away from sugary cereals and puts an emphasis on healthier choices.
To keep the shelves stocked, the Douglas County Outreach Food Shelf purchases needed staple items from North Country Food Bank, a distributor based in Crookston. North Country Food Bank serves the western north and central portions of the state, almost one-quarter of Minnesota. The bank delivers once a month and passes savings on to local food shelves.
"We recently received hams worth hundreds of dollars, for no charge," Syverson said.
ASKING FOR HELP
Syverson said oftentimes, people needing help are embarrassed to ask for help and they don't need to be. Records are confidential and visits are by appointment.
"A lot of people who qualify don't come in," he said.
People who have determined they have a need for food support from the Douglas County Outreach Food Shelf can get assistance by stopping into the office on Lake Street in Alexandria and filling out an eligibility form. Name, address, number of people in the household, any other assistance programs a person may participate in and income eligibility are needed to fill out the United States Department of Agriculture required form.
"Basic eligibility is that a person is in need of food and lives in Douglas County," Syverson said. Proof of residency can be shown with an identification card or piece of mail. Pay-stubs are not required. Income must be 200 percent or less of the federal poverty guidelines (FPG). An individual is in poverty is their annual income is $22,340 or less; for each additional household member the FPG is figured by adding $7,920 to annual household income.
However, the form states that eligibility is granted to all people in situations of emergency and distress due to disasters. A food shelf referral can also be given by West Central Minnesota Communities Action, which waives any additional screening by food shelf volunteer staff.
Clients are allowed one visit every 30 days. Volunteers issue a reminder card stating the last visit date. Syverson said people are always welcome to call if they should need a visit sooner.
HOW TO DONATE
Donations of food, baby and personal care items or cash can be made at the Douglas County Outreach Food Shelf or at a U.S. Bank office. U.S. bank has partnered with Minnesota FoodShare for 12 years.
Minnesota FoodShare is a program of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches. The March Campaign is the largest food and cash drive held annually in Minnesota.
The Douglas County Outreach Food Shelf is located at 1205 Lake Street in Alexandria. Appointments can be made by calling (320) 762-8411. Hours of operation are Monday 9:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. and Tuesday through Thursday from 9:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. Due to a trending increase in need, the food shelf is considering opening on Fridays, Syverson said.
Monetary donations can be mailed to P.O. Box 1324, Alexandria, MN 56308.
In July 1982, the Rev. Jeff Bullock of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Alexandria recognized a need for a food shelf in the community. He called upon retired Wally Bloom, who brought the message into churches across the county. Bloom's wife, Virginia, a past Echo Press columnist and KXRA Radio personality, brought the message further into the community.
Once word was out, the food started coming in. The little organization outgrew its home in the church's attic and basement. A new building was built on Lake Street with labor provided by Alexandria Technical and Community College (ATCC). Just four years after completion, an addition doubled the building's size.
In 2001, a final addition was constructed, resulting in a 96-feet long by 24-feet wide building. All hours were volunteer; no paid time contributed to the community project. In 2007, ATCC students built a 24-feet by 36-feet garage on-site for extra storage.
Some of the volunteers have served for 20 years. The food shelf boasts that it has never turned anyone away because of lack of food.
FOOD SHELF HELPS EVERYONE
4,027 families were served
559 people were 65 years or older
7,059 people were 18 years or older
4,579 were younger than 18
Crystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.