By Kristen Miller
DASSEL, COKATO, MN In this season of thanksgiving, area food shelves are grateful for the community’s support in giving food donations to help those in need.
According to Brenda Voigt, director of the Meeker County Emergency Food Shelf and its satellite, the Dassel Area Food Shelf, the need is still out there.
“I just see the desperation in their eyes when they come in,” Voigt said, of those who utilize the food shelf.
For many of the users, unemployment benefits have run out and they still can’t find jobs, Voigt said, adding that the majority are working with the workforce.
Also, some of the users are elderly on fixed incomes.
“And there is no increase [to Social Security] coming, as far as I know,” Voigt said.
As of Wednesday, Dec. 22, the Dassel Area Food Shelf will have been serving residents for one year, and it is planning to renew its lease with Paul and Betty Opsahl for 2011, according to Voigt, who is very satisfied with both the space and location of the food shelf, located at 531 Atlantic Ave. West, next to Opsahl Plumbing.
Since it opened last December, the food shelf has served 124 households (including some repeat users), 307 individuals in those households, and has distributed 5,174 pounds of food, according to Voigt.
“It’s really important to know how many people have benefited from this resource,” Voigt said.
This information was distributed to the residents of Dassel in a letter from Voigt regarding the 2010 fall/holiday food drive that is currently underway.
This is the largest food drive throughout the year, and continues through Friday, Dec. 31.
“It helps us stock our shelves that were depleted over the summer months, and stock up for the winter,” Voigt said.
During the drive, Voigt asks for food donations and also monetary donations so that she can purchase food at a more reasonable price through Second Harvest Heartland Food Bank in St. Paul.
Donations from the area have been really good, Voigt said, which helps keep the shelves stocked with a variety of necessary items.
Food drives hosted by local businesses have helped to bring in hundreds of pounds of food, according to Voigt.
American Time and Signal in Dassel has already contributed 656 pounds of food this fall, along with Spectralytics in Dassel, which collected 771 pounds of food, according to Voigt.
She is also expecting a large contribution from Dassel Elementary students this December with money raised from the third grade Christmas stores. On average, the students bring between $500 and $1,000 in donated food, according to Mary Neu, coordinator at Dassel Elementary.
“They really bring in a lot of food,” Voigt said.
Though the food shelf would not be possible without donations, Voigt also appreciates the additional help she receives.
“There are a lot of wonderful volunteers [from the area] who are enthusiastic and fun to work with,” she said.
Because this is considered an emergency food shelf, families or individuals in need can utilize the food shelf once a month, and are given a four-day supply.
The food shelf is open Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Thursdays from 3 to 7 p.m.
During those times, users can come in to meet briefly with Voigt to determine the emergency and if there are any other services they are qualified for. A proof of residency and a picture ID is required to receive donations, and it’s first come, first served, Voigt explained.
On average, the Dassel Area Food Shelf helps 11 to 15 families each month, according to Voigt, which may not sound like a lot, but “It just takes time. I feel very good about it,” she said.
For questions, contact Voigt at either (320) 275-0124 or (320) 693-7661.
Cokato Area Food Shelf
Russ Irvin, director of the Cokato Area Food Shelf, is also grateful for the generous donations received throughout the year.
“We live in a very giving community,” Irvin said.
Some of the most significant donations this year included the Hands Against Hunger event organized by Cokato Evangelical Lutheran Church, which collected an estimated 600 pounds of food. The Dassel-Cokato Boy Scouts also gave a generous donation of roughly 250 pounds of food.
Employees at Thompson Reuters, formerly Paisley Consulting, also donated a large amount of food, according to Irvin.
The food shelf also received two large cash donations; one from a local church in the amount of $1,000, and a $1,400 donation from an individual.
Cash donations help to purchase vouchers for the food shelf to distribute to be used for purchasing perishable items such as meat and dairy from the Marketplace.
To date, the food shelf has served 300 families and 1,000 individuals, and averages about nine families a week, according to Irvin.
With the changing season, Irvin has noticed there has been a greater need this month over last. The food shelf has been receiving one additional family each week, Irvin said, who noted that food was packed for 20 families last week alone.
Like the Dassel Area Food Shelf, those in need of donations are limited to one collection a month.
To request a collection, call Elim Mission Church at (320) 286-2662 by noon Thursday for Friday pick-up.
Any donations to the food shelf can be dropped off at Elim Mission Church, located at 405 Broadway Ave. S.