By Kristen Miller
DASSEL, COKATO, MN In the spirit of giving, the Dassel-Cokato community continues to show its support for the local food shelves as usage reaches all-time highs.
Cokato Area Food Shelf Director Russ Irvin estimates usage is up 33 percent this year, making donations more important than ever.
Last week, Irvin and several volunteers packed 50 Christmas boxes to local families with a ham, eggs, bread, and non-perishable food items just in time for the holidays.
In the nine years he has worked with the food shelf, Irvin has seen it multiply in both users and donors.
Four years ago, the Cokato food shelf was said to be at its all-time high, serving 280 families. Numbers have surpassed that by nearly double.
This year, numbers show that the Cokato food shelf has served 490 families so far this year, an increase of nearly 200 over last year’s number of 300 families. This amounts to 1,600 individuals, 600 more than 2010.
“A lot of it is [due to lack of] jobs and cutbacks on hours,” Irvin said. “But we are doing so well, as far as our food shelf donations.”
The Dassel Area Food Shelf has been open two years come Thursday, Dec. 22, and is finding it’s definitely serving a need in the area.
Brenda Voigt, director of the Dassel Area Food Shelf, has also seen numbers increase and can only expect them to rise in the coming year.
The Dassel Area Food Shelf served 390 individuals, 165 households, and handed out 7,263 pounds of food, according to numbers from January through the end of October. This averages to about 15 to 20 families a month, Voigt said.
Layoffs and loss of jobs seem to be the cause for rising usage in neighboring counties such as McLeod, Sibley, and Renville, according to Voigt, but in Meeker County, she hasn’t seen so much of that.
“The need has risen simply because of everyday living expenses,” Voigt said.
Hearing from first-time users Voigt said she is seeing more people whose reason for using the food shelf is due to a decrease in work hours and the rising cost of day-to-day expenses. “Food, particularly,” Voigt said, adding she foresees an increase in the coming year because of that.
Donations have been plentiful
Increased usage means a greater need for donations, which the Dassel-Cokato community has been supportive of.
“Donations are going very well,” Irvin said. “We are very blessed.”
From donations of turkeys and hams for the holidays to everyday non-perishable food items, the food shelves are appreciative for the generosity.
Voigt particularly enjoys seeing Dassel Elementary third graders carrying bags of groceries they purchased at the local grocery store each year.
The students in both Dassel and Cokato elementary schools used the money they earned from their recent Christmas stores to give back to their local food shelf.
On behalf of the Cokato Elementary fourth grade teaching team, teacher Pat Kusler said they see students being impacted greatly by being able to help in their own community this way.
“They are very proud that they have earned the money and they are very careful with how they spend it when we are shopping,” Kusler said.
Irvin talks to the students ahead of time about why people need the food shelf and what the current needs are. The students will even make a grocery list.
“As teachers, watching our students proudly carry their bags into the food shelf is very meaningful and affirms that the time we have spent on the project is well worth it,” Kusler said.
As part of the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot, hosted by the DC wrestling team, 150 food items were donated, along with $120, according to coach Bryan Clemen.
The DC High School FFA and the DC Middle School also host a food drive benefiting the local food shelves.
Churches and local industries have also been very supportive of the food shelves, hosting their own food drives throughout the year.
Hours and locations
The Cokato Area Food Shelf is located at 395 Broadway Avenue, however, users requesting food need to contact Elim Mission Church Monday through Thursday noon at (320) 286-2662, or stop in the church located across the street.
The Dassel Area Food Shelf is located at 531 Atlantic Avenue West and is open for walk-ins Tuesdays from 10 a.m to 3 p.m., and Thursdays from 3 to 7 p.m. or by calling (320) 275-0124 or (320) 693-7665.