Meeker County food shelf demand increases in 2007

February 25, 2008

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

The total number of families who used the Meeker County Emergency Food Shelf increased to 1,008 in 2007, from 887 in 2006.

A new trend has developed in both the county and state in which more single men are using the food shelf than ever before, County Food Shelf Coordinator Brenda Voigt said Tuesday in her annual report to the county board of commissioners.

Voigt and Dale Miller, president of the food shelf, located on Sibley Avenue in downtown Litchfield, presented a client use report. The food shelf served 945 children, 1,458 adults between 18 and 64, and 116 adults over 65, she said.

Most are repeaters, but 125 new clients used the food shelf in 2007. Once a month, clients can get a three-day supply of food. County residents were generous in donating food and money to the food shelf, so often, the food shelf was able to give a four-day supply of food to each client, Voigt said.

The food shelves were getting empty at the end of the summer, and Voigt started to get panicky, she said. However, the food drive in the fall was the best ever. March is the month when the food shelf has its major food and fund raising drive for the year, she added.

The food shelf also collects funds to buy hamburger and other staples, Voigt added. She can get good quality hamburger from Second Harvest in the Twin Cities. She also pointed out that Sparboe Companies of Litchfield donates 960 dozen eggs a month to Second Harvest.

The food shelf has jars collecting cash donations in various businesses throughout the county. Shoppers throw their loose change into the jars. Voigt said she was surprised at how much is collected for the food shelf in those jars, more than $300 in 2007.

Approximately 90 people from the Dassel area were served by the food shelf, according to the report. About 180 came from the Darwin area and the east side of Litchfield. The northern third of the county had 133 clients. The Litchfield area had 402, and the western third of the county had 178 clients, according to the report.

Most of the people who used the food shelf in 2007 said their wages had stayed the same, but their living expenses increased, so they couldn’t always afford food, Voigt said.

Commissioner Amy Wilde said a single parent in her Bible study group had her children taken off Medical Assistance when her income went up. However, her employer-provided health insurance didn’t cover her children. She probably was typical of those struggling to pay for both groceries and health care, Wilde said.

Voigt couldn’t explain the increase in single men using the food shelf, other than maybe they had just been released from jail, and hadn’t had a chance to get a job and receive a paycheck yet.

Food shelf officials love how the food shelf is next door to the Heartland Community Action Agency thrift store and outreach office, said Clark Gustafson, social services director. It’s one-stop shopping for the food shelf clients. They can get clothing and arrange for energy assistance, as well as get food, he said.

Voigt has been food shelf coordinator for eight years. Miller is in his third years as president. The Rev. Douglas Pierce of Dassel is vice-president, and represents the Dassel Cokato Ministerium for the food shelf.

Odds and ends

In other business, the board:

• noted a comment from Commissioner Ron Kutzke that 31 percent of the county levy goes to pay for programs mandated by the federal and state government.

• heard a report from Gustafson that he testified at a legislative hearing in Stearns County how Meeker County lost $38,000 for child protection and child welfare because of cuts in targeted case management funds.

• listened to Gustafson that cases of abuse of vulnerable adults increased to 84 in 2001, from 55 in 2000. Guardianships have tripled since then. Despite the sharp increase in cases, Social Worker Patty Benson is doing a good job handling those vulnerable adult cases, he said.

• paid for two more county burials, bringing the total for 2008 to four. Usually there are six to seven burials in a year, Gustafson said.

• heard that a $350,000 grant application for children’s mental health has been made. Also, Woodland Center has received a $1 million-grant over three years to provide therapists for 10 school districts. Litchfield and ACGC school districts will have two of those therapists, Gustafson said.

• approved designating mental health social worker, Kari Wold, to the screening committee for committing mentally ill people to a hospital.

• listened to a report from Pat Thomas, social services supervisor, that a Cosmos assertive community team, ACT, to maintain chronic, acute, and lifelong mentally ill people, is so good, other ACTs around the state are using the team as an example. Gustafson said he was worried the ACT’s function will be changed from maintenance to rehabilitation, and the team won’t be as effective.

• agreed to apply for a grant for respite care for severely emotionally disturbed children. The grant will be used for summer camps and YMCA activities for the children, for example, so their parents will have a break.

• heard from Gustafson that he made a resolution to the state for the 18-county region that a facility for violent and aggressive mentally ill patients be constructed, so patients won’t need to be put in jail.

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