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Outreach Food Shelf distribution is down from last year

The Food Shelf serves approximately 75 families a week.

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Outreach Food Shelf volunteer Lana Leedahl arranges cans on a shelf on Tuesday morning, April 5.
Travis Gulbrandson / Alexandria Echo Press

ALEXANDRIA — A combination of factors, including supply chain issues, the bird flu and rising food prices means the Outreach Food Shelf is not giving out as much food as it did at this time last year.

That said, the Food Shelf still serves approximately 75 families a week.

"In the first quarter of the year we've touched 844 households, and 2,400 individuals," said Outreach Food Shelf's executive director, Bernice Wimmer.

The Food Shelf's community outreach — sharing food with other distribution programs — donated 10,000 pounds in the first three months of the year, as well.

"The really sad part is compared to 2021, our outreach was 488 pounds given out per day, and now it's 176, because we just don't have the food," Wimmer said. "It's not coming in.

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"It's the same with our clients," she said. "We're at around 2,100 pounds a day, compared to almost 2,300 pounds, so we have to give out less because we just don't have as much coming in."

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Volunteer Karen Lund shelves bottles of water at the Outreach Food Shelf on Tuesday morning, April 5.
Travis Gulbrandson / Alexandria Echo Press

For example, a couple of weeks ago it was hard to get salt because of the supply chain issues. Now it's hard to get eggs because of the bird flu. Egg-laying hens, about three out of every 100 in U.S. flocks, have died in outbreaks of the avian influenza, according to agricultural experts.

Protein, too, in general is getting harder to come by, Wimmer said.

"There's not a lot of meat on the shelves in the stores, and everything is going up," she said. "We're giving out less food because we can't get it."

While money can be raised to buy more food, the supply chain issues make it impossible, Wimmer said.

"I'm not saying (the increase in costs) doesn't hurt — it makes the job more challenging — but that's at least something you can address," she said. "When the food's not there, you can't address it."

Still, Wimmer said businesses, organizations and individuals continue to step up and make both financial and food donations.

"You just never know where it's going to come from," she said. "It works out, and has worked out for 40 years — this is the 40th anniversary — and we're praying that the food keeps coming. We're doing the best we can, and we will keep trying to get enough food to feed everybody."

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That food comes from a variety of sources, including community businesses, food drives, community members and the faith community.

Last year, businesses donated almost 500,000 pounds of food, and food drives came out with almost 75,000 pounds, Wimmer said.

Food banks are also a continuing source.

"There's five of them in the state of Minnesota," Wimmer said. "They bring the food to all the food shelves. Part of the food comes from the federal government, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, called TEFAP, the Emergency Food Assistance Program. That's free food, except for shipping."

Food banks also go to food suppliers to purchase food, which they then distribute.

"So once a month a truck comes in with approximately 10,000 pounds of food," Wimmer said.

Additional food, like milk and eggs, is purchased by the Food Shelf.

Funding comes from such sources as community organizations, memorials, general donations, state gifting and grants.

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"It takes about $10,000 a month to keep the Food Shelf in operation," Wimmer said.

It takes a lot of volunteer work as well, with volunteers serving more than 17,000 hours in 2021.

In addition to the Outreach Food Shelf, Wimmer pointed out that the United Way and the area schools also distribute food to community members.

Wimmer said there are lots of ways for community members to help, such as planting an extra row in their garden, grabbing an extra can at the grocery store to donate, or doing a neighborhood food drive.

"All that stuff helps," she said. "Every dollar that you donate is five meals for someone."

For more information on the Outreach Food Shelf, visit www.outreachfoodshelf.org/.

Travis Gulbrandson covers several beats, including Osakis School Board and Osakis City Council, along with the Brandon-Evansville School Board. His focus will also be on crime and court news.
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