Economic tough times are being seen through the eyes of local food shelf directors
By Kristen Miller
DASSEL, DARWIN, KINGSTON, COKATO, MN - With the economy on the downturn, it’s no surprise there are more and more people finding themselves with low-paying jobs, or even unemployed.
Thanks to support and service from local food shelves, families who are suffering during these hard times can rest assure they won’t go hungry.
Usage has doubled from last year at the Cokato Area Food Shelf, said Russ Irvin, co-director.
Last year, the food shelf served, on average, four to five families per week. This year, it is serving between nine and 10 families, with the average size between four to six members, according to Irvin.
The total number of families served last year was 251, or 891 people. This year, as of Nov. 1, that number had gone up significantly to 280 families, or 1,269 individuals.
Isabelle Mattson is 86 years old and has been volunteering for the Cokato Area Food Shelf for about 14 years.
Just recently, Mattson has seen a lot of new people coming to the food shelf due to unemployment, illnesses preventing them from working, low wages, as well as mothers not receiving child support.
“I think a lot of it is due to everything getting so expensive, there isn’t enough to go around,” Mattson said.
“The till runs dry,” she added.
The Cokato Area Food Shelf has had a lot of changes in just the past six months including a home all its own.
The food shelf used to be in a basement closet of the Elim Mission Church, now it’s in its own building (shared with the Minnesota Disaster Relief office) on the corner of Broadway and Fourth Street.
Now, they have the room for more shelf space, a loading area, and two refrigerators and freezers for meat, vegetables, and dairy products.
The Meeker County Emergency Food Shelf, located along Sibley Avenue in Litchfield, is also seeing an all-time high, with 20 new families using the food shelf in October alone, according to Director Brenda Voigt.
In 2007, the Meeker County Emergency Food Shelf served 1,008 families, and with October numbers, 2008 is sure to surpass that, according to Voigt.
In the 10 years she has worked for the food shelf, Voigt hasn’t seen anything like it, she said.
“It’s a job I wish we didn’t have to have,” Voigt said, explaining it’s especially difficult during these hard economic times to see and hear the stories.
Though the need for use varies, it’s mainly the increased prices in everything in general, Voigt said.
Most of the users of the food shelf are families of four to six members in which both parents work.
Many have increased utility bills, no insurance, or commutes to jobs putting a toll on the gas bill, Voigt explained.
But what saddens Voigt the most is seeing people in their 50s who have lost their jobs and can’t find work.
“They never anticipated they would be in this position, where they would have to find another job or use the food shelf,” Voigt said.
Also with that age group comes higher insurance premiums.
“I just get goose bumps talking about it,” Voigt said.
Also, Voigt has seen senior citizens who have nothing in their cupboards, yet find it hard to utilize the food shelf without paying for food.
“Many people don’t even know what’s going on,” Voigt said.
Since it’s an “emergency” food shelf, people use their own discretion as to whether they need the food shelf, Voigt explained.
An emergency can mean anything from a homeowner being behind on their mortgage or someone being sick in the family, to just everyday living expenses.
Shelves are looking fairly low at the Meeker County Emergency Food Shelf, but there is a food drive involving area businesses until the end of December. Drop-off sites have yet to be determined.
Also recently, four Dassel businesses had a friendly competition to see which could collect the most food.
American Time and Signal, Spectralytics, Crest Healthcare, and Porta Dock collected 3,538 pounds of food that was split between the Cokato Area Food Shelf and the Meeker County Emergency Food Shelf.
With the number of employees varying, the winners were determined by pounds per employee, according to Mari Sjoquist.
American Time and Signal won the food drive collecting 1,254 pounds of food, or 16.29 pounds per person. Spectralytics trailed with 1,477 pounds, or 15.22 pounds per person.
Both food shelves were very appreciative of the amount of food they received.
The Meeker County Emergency Food Shelf hours are Mondays from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Tuesdays through Fridays 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
For the Cokato Area Food Shelf, requests must be placed by Thursday noon for Friday pick-up by calling (320) 286-2662. Donations can also be scheduled for drop-off through Elim Mission Church.