Food shelves provide crucial service to our area
By Carlienne A. Frisch
The Twin Cities’ food relief group Second Harvest Heartland estimates that one in eight Minnesotans, including 20 percent of children, don’t know where their next meal is coming from. A visit to a food shelf is one solution to their hunger. Food shelves also give people in the community an opportunity to help others.
“One of the reasons I got into this was to give back, and it’s one of the reasons I stay,” said Kay Gottschalk, coordinator of the Janesville Community Food Shelf. “I enjoy the feeling of being able to help someone who hasn’t eaten for a week because they prioritize feeding their family. They sometimes cry when saying ‘Thank you’--or before COVID-19, they gave you a hug.”
Food shelves are located in many smaller communities like Lake Crystal, Janesville, Chaska and New Ulm. Volunteers are a key to success, as is the generosity of people in the community who donate food and money for food purchases. A farm family’s donation may include fresh produce or even a couple of hogs, which one Blue Earth County food shelf, the Sharing Shelf in Lake Crystal, received last year.
The Sharing Shelf opened 11 years ago as an outreach of the First Baptist Church of Lake Crystal, where one room is allocated to the food shelf.
“One woman had an idea that led to a group of us forming to meet the need in the community—to love people as Jesus showed us to do,” said Coordinator Robin Johnson. “The first few years we had mostly older, retired people from an income-based apartment building in town. Now more of the people who use our food shelf are those working for a low wage or people who cannot work because of physical disabilities or mental illness.”
Volunteers from the congregation have become experienced in communicating with clients who speak minimal English by using basic words and gesturing. Three or four volunteers work each week, along with Johnson, who said, “We’re shorter of volunteers now because of COVID-19 concerns, but volunteers and clients all wear masks, and some months we’ve had curbside pickup. The procedure changes as COVID fluctuates. We don’t deliver food to homes, but if an elderly shut-in who doesn’t drive needed food, we would make an exception.
“Over the years, we have helped people mostly from Lake Crystal, and more recently from Madelia, but also from Amboy, Garden City, Vernon Center and occasionally from Mankato,” Johnson said. “We don’t require proof of residence, identification, etc. The founding board decided we didn’t want to report to any government agency or corporation. We want to make it easy for people to have their needs met then and there. People are allowed to come 12 times in a 12-month period. This is the rule we’ve set up, but if someone came a 13th time and said, “I’m hungry,” we wouldn’t turn them away. We get people in crisis, who use up 12 visits in 12 weeks, but most times it’s a chronic need, and we see them every month. People working at minimum wage jobs come every month, year after year, and we get to know them and their families. We pray for them and sometimes pray with them.”
Although food supplies are funded primarily by the First Baptist Church, various community groups hold food drives, and each of Lake Crystal’s six other churches donate funds and food. Johnson said, “People have been generous with monetary donations, and we were nearly overwhelmed with food donations last spring-- but a busy fall depleted that supply.” What kinds of foods does the Sharing Shelf usually receive—sometimes in quantity? “Beans,” Johnson said. “People tend to donate all kinds of beans—pinto, garbanzo, pork and beans, etc. Surprisingly, beans are not as popular as some other foods with more protein, such as canned chicken, tuna and peanut butter.” Donations of higher protein foods are welcome, and meat recently became available.
“Someone in the community donated a freezer, and a farm family donated two hogs, which were processed at a meat market,” Johnson explained. “Another benefactor donated $250 worth of ground beef, purchased locally. All of the food we purchase is ordered from Kevin’s Market in Lake Crystal, at the store’s cost, which has been a tremendous help. Two volunteers pick it up and stock shelves. Food from drives is often picked up by volunteers, but the Boy Scouts deliver theirs to us.” Only one non-food item, toilet tissue, is stocked.
The Sharing Shelf filled 148 orders through November 2020, compared to 227 orders in the 12 months of 2019. Johnson said, “Some people who received COVID emergency financial relief were able to purchase groceries more readily than usual. Here, people called for an appointment to pick up a general package of food that we put outside the door for them. I would wave at them through the glass.”
The Sharing Shelf is open 6-6:30 p.m. every Tuesday at the First Baptist Church of Lake Crystal, 312 S. Oakland Street, but as Johnson said, “Sometimes we’re open from 5:45 to 7 p.m., or later.” Questions? Phone the church at 507-726-2529.
The Janesville Community Food Shelf in Waseca County also saw a drop in client numbers last summer because of COVID-19 programs. Coordinator Kay Gottschalk said, “There was an increase of benefits to people through federal funding and other federal programs, such as Farm to Table.”
Clients who needed food made phone contact with a volunteer. The food was bagged and set outside the door for pick up. Although a family or individual may get food once a month, Gotschalk said, “If they come a second time, I’m not going to turn them away.”
The Janesville Community Food Shelf is operated by an executive board of four people representing three churches, with each board member volunteering once a month. Volunteers set up and staff the food shelf, which receives USDA-subsidized food or purchases food at 18 cents per pound from a food bank in Rochester with funds from private donations and grants. In 2019, the food shelf distributed 67,700 pounds of food to 988 households. (Figures from 2020 were not available at printing time.)
Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter food baskets, which have been distributed for 20 years, involve what might be called “volunteers in training.” Gottschalk explained, “We involve fifth graders from Trinity School, who come to help pack baskets from a supply line on the church’s kitchen counter.”
The Janesville Community Food Shelf, located at Trinity Lutheran Church, 412 N. Main St., is open 10 a.m.-noon every Tuesday, 6-7 p.m. the second Thursday of each month and 1-3 p.m. the first and third Saturdays. Phone 507-231-5623 or see www.trinityjanesville.com
One of four Carver County food shelves is the Bountiful Basket Food Shelf in Chaska, which serves the communities of Carver, Chaska, Chanhassen and Victoria. Coordinator Jeri Glander said, “We began as part of a food shelf in Shakopee and were doing very well, so we established our own governing board in 2011, and we became a separate non-profit in 2018.
“Anybody can come for food,” she said. “We don’t ask for proof of anything, but we like to think people have a need. Sometimes it’s a short-term need, but some have been coming for years. We always have a certain number of new people, but the overall number stays the same--400-425 families each month, including clients who come a second time during the month. We distribute 15 tons (that’s 30,000 pounds!) of food each month.
“We receive product donations from six area grocery stores, from school and church food drives, and from individuals,” Glander said. “Paper towels and facial tissue are by donation only, but monetary donations are used for purchasing toilet tissue, and an area church collects toilet tissue for us at Super Roll Sunday. Gardeners bring in a lot of produce during the summer. One 90-year-old man brings a pickup truck of produce every week.
“We use monetary donations from individuals and churches to pay rent on our building, to pay for utilities, for gas in the organization’s van (purchased with donated funds) in which we pick up food,” she said. “And we are a mobile food shelf to low-income apartment buildings, where the residents sign up and order their food. Last year, from March through July, we had curbside delivery only at the food shelf, then in July by appointment, with everyone wearing a mask, and in November we began promoting curbside again.”
Glander, who has volunteered there for 11 years, said, “It’s fun. It keeps me busy. I like doing it.”
The Bountiful Basket Food Shelf distributed 383,731 pounds of food in the Oct. 2019-Sept. 2020 fiscal year, serving 1,027 individual families. It’s open 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Mondays and 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Tues., Wed., and Fri., as well as 9 a.m.-noon the first and third Saturdays, at 1600 Bavaria Road. Phone 952-556-0244 or see www.bountifulbasketfoodshelf.org.
The New Ulm Area Food Shelf has been serving the community for nearly 40 years, funded entirely by donations. Executive Director Brad Kirk explained, “Back in 1982, some churches got together and started the food shelf in a church basement. The food shelf has developed a group of more than 50 volunteers who staff the shelf regularly and a similar number who work during the busy pre-Christmas season and during food drives.
Volunteers pick up donated food, mostly perishables, from four stores three times a week. Non-perishables are purchased from Second Harvest Heartland and also come through food drives by schools, churches, businesses and Boy Scouts. During the growing season, there’s a Tuesday “produce drop” on tables in the driveway—produce that people may pick up without showing ID.
“We’re an emergency food shelf—once a month,” Kirk said. “Our clients vary, although certain ones come every month. With COVID-19, we had curbside pickup and many new people coming, but with many regulars not coming in, we had a 40 percent drop total.” In April 2020, a program for home bound seniors to receive a 14-day supply of food was begun, but has not grown because the program did not receive hoped-for grant funding.
The food shelf, which requires proof of residence, such as a utility bill, serves Brown County residents in New Ulm, Hanska, Searles and Essig, as well as Lafayette and Courtland in Nicollet County. Located at 1305 Valley St., New Ulm, it’s open noon-2:45 p.m., Monday and Wednesday, and 6:30-7:45 the first Monday of each month. For information, phone 507-354-7668.