Fare For All is a nonprofit program aimed at helping individuals and families that feel squeezed by the increase in food prices at the supermarket. The program purchases fresh fruit and vegetables and frozen meat in bulk directly from wholesalers using a cooperative food-buying program. The savings are passed on to participants, for up to 40 percent savings off of grocery store prices.
“Our son has a birthday coming up so we came today to get some meat packages for him,” explained Marge. The Stolps also bought meat packages in June. “I was amazed at the food. We really liked the chicken-in-a-bag. It was very good.” She raved about the helpfulness of the Fare For All volunteers and how efficiently things ran at the St. Joseph site. After a wait of about an hour, the Stolps filled out their shopping list, picked up and paid for their food and went home to Big Lake with three mega-meat packages and a produce package.
Amanda Roles, from Resurrection Lutheran, and Mary Plafcan, from St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, are the co-site leaders for the Fare For All distributions, which are held at Resurrection Lutheran Church, 610 County Road 2, St. Joseph. The program began in March, and the July event was the fifth distribution. It is open one Monday a month from 4 to 6 p.m. “We are the only site in central Minnesota,” said Roles, “and it’s so exciting for our congregation and the entire St. Joseph community. We have 25-30 volunteers every month, which is twice the number of other sites.”
There is no registration or identification required for program participants, and there are no income restrictions. Fare For All sells discounted food to everyone, not just to individuals or families in need. Grocery bills have been eating up a larger percentage of household budgets, and this program offers an option to cutting back on meat and nutritious fruits and vegetables.
Co-site leader Plafcan greets people at Resurrection’s door each month as she hands them a number and a shopping list with five items listed. Food packages include produce, meat-only, regular and mega-meat. In addition, customers can purchase the monthly a la carte item. For July, it was a Hormel pork roast for $4. There are no limits on the packs an individual can purchase, but there is a limit of two a la carte items. After getting a shopping list and a number, everyone is seated in the church sanctuary where they can relax and watch a PowerPoint presentation, which describes the items included in each of the packages.
Fare For All prepackages the food they get from wholesalers. In July, the produce pack included five apples, four oranges, three pears, three kiwis, a pound of carrots, a pound of onions, five pounds of potatoes and a coleslaw mix. The cost for the pack- $10. The meat-only pack includes a variety of three to four meat items, including chicken, beef, turkey and fish for $11. For a savings of $1, shoppers can get a regular pack for $20, which includes both the produce and meat-only pack. Finally, there is the mega-meat pack for $25, which includes seven to eight frozen meat items, including chicken, turkey, pork, beef and fish.
At holiday time, there is a holiday pack which includes all the “fixings” for a holiday meal, such as a turkey, ham, potatoes, vegetables and pie.
After the Fare For All trucks are unloaded and volunteers are at their stations, the distribution opens, a little before 4 p.m.. Ten numbers are called, and shoppers bring their list to the distribution area where tables are stacked with produce, meat, regular and mega-meat packs. Volunteers load the cart, and shoppers get in line to pay the cashier. Fare For All accepts cash, credit, debit and EBT cards. Before leaving, each shopper can choose two free bread/bakery items from a large bin of loaves.
Co-site leader, Roles, said there have been some improvements made to the site at Resurrection Lutheran to improve flow. The Knights of Columbus and St. Joseph Lions Club donated money to put a new door in the distribution area which leads directly to the parking lot. In the future, a sidewalk will be installed at that door so participants can exit there instead of backtracking through crowded hallways to the front entrance.
Fare For All’s Outreach Coordinator, Scott Weatherhead, is present at all distributions. “The best part is that the program is open to everyone,” stressed Weatherhead. “We use a bulk purchasing model so the more we buy, the lower our costs, and everyone wins.” He continued by saying their biggest obstacle is that people think that they are taking food away from needy people and that is not the case. Fare For All is self-sufficient.
Originally, Fare For All hoped that the site would be located in St. Cloud. “But no one came forward and then Amanda called,” said Weatherhead, referring to Roles. He is impressed with St. Joseph’s program and with the large number of volunteers. “It’s the largest site by far. At an average site, we sell 125 packs. I brought 400 packs for the first distribution in March, and we sold out. It was the first time in the two years I’ve been here that we ran out of food.” Weatherhead brought 500 packs in April, and they sold out again. In May, Fare For All sent two trucks to St. Joseph, and again, they sold out- 666 packs. In June, Fare For All did not run out of food.
“The volunteers here are amazing,” Weatherhead said, “and everything is so organized. I would panic if I saw this number of people waiting at another site.” Fare For All has distribution sites around Minnesota, but most are in the metro area. “We had 24 sites, and we expanded by opening six new sites this year—Northfield, St. Joseph, Blaine, Chaska, Bloomington and Onamia. The Onamia site is located at the Onamia Veteran’s Club.
Ginelle Richter, of Albany, volunteered for the first time at the July 7 distribution at Resurrection. Richter, a Reach Up/Head Start teacher, seated people in the sanctuary where they waited until their number was called. “I saw the need for volunteers in the bulletin,” Richter said, “and I knew I wanted to help. I’m glad the program started. It benefits the community.” She had not bought food packages in the past, but she planned to buy some that day.
The rain began about 4 p.m. along with the start of St. Joseph’s Fare For All distribution, but it couldn’t dampen the spirits of those in attendance. Shoppers came in and left, with yellow-vested volunteer cart-pushers, including Charles Nordby, assisting them in unloading their carts and filling up their trunks. Nordby, of Avon, was all smiles and full of chitchat as he posed for a photo in the downpour. “I’d better get back to work or they might fire me,” he joked, as he headed back to his post. He and his wife, Arlene, have volunteered each month at the community event.
Fare For All, originally known as Fare Share, was developed by Emergency Food Shelf Network in 1986 as a way to help families stretch their food budget and to encourage volunteerism. It was part of a nationwide network of cooperative food purchasing programs. In January 2007, Fare For All was launched. In addition to supporting Fare For All, Emergency Food Shelf Network collects, warehouses and distributes high quality food to Minnesota food shelves, on-site meal programs and subsidized housing complexes.
The next Fare For All event in St. Joseph is scheduled for Aug. 4 from 3-5 p.m. (note change of regular time). Other scheduled 2014 dates are Sept. 15, Oct. 13, Nov. 10 and Dec. 8, each from 4-6 p.m.
For more information on Fare For All and to check on distribution sites and dates, go to www.fareforall.org.