By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Drive by 10 houses in Winsted or Lester Prairie, and chances are, at least two of the families used the McLeod Emergency Food Shelf in 2010.
“It’s been increasing every year,” McLeod Emergency Food Shelf Coordinator Marietta Neumann said. “This year, it’s really going up.”
In McLeod County, 3,415 households (10,998 individuals) were served in 2010, up more than 1,288 from 2009.
Of those, 6,612 were adults, and 4,136 were children.
“When I started, we served 1,000 to 2,000 households a year,” Neumann said.
In her 23 years of operating the food shelf, Neumann said she’s only seen usage decrease once sometime in the early 1990s.
Lately, however, the spike has been even higher than normal.
In Hutchinson alone, 1,673 households (out of about 6,289 total housing units) were served.
“Hutchinson is higher, and that’s mostly because of HTI layoffs,” Neumann said.
Unemployment and reduced work hours account for many food assistance seekers throughout the county.
Increased costs for gasoline, medical care, prescription drugs, and other expenses are also reasons people might look for help.
“It isn’t the big emergencies that make headlines,” Neumann said. “It’s all these things you don’t think of. A mother might have to take off work while her child is sick, or the transmission could go out on the car.”
More than 400 of the households were first-time-ever users in 2010.
“It isn’t that they’re too lazy to go to work,” Neumann said, adding that many people are unaware that those around them might need help.
Neumann recalled a man who dropped off a donation at the food shelf, and told her that if people would just work, they wouldn’t need the food shelf.
“It’s a good thing he left when he did, because about an hour later, his own son was in for food,” Neumann said.
Over the years, Neumann ended up giving food to three of that man’s children.
“I’m sure he never knew those families needed help,” she said.
The McLeod Emergency Food Shelf doesn’t require a certain income level in order to receive food, but the workers will ask for proof of address, since it is only open to McLeod County residents.
Recipients also need to provide a reason why assistance is needed.
In 2010, Neumann said there were only two cases of people abusing the food shelf.
“You can tell when someone’s taking advantage of you,” she said, adding that she can also check the crime reports to see if there are charges filed on a person.
Beginning in October 2010, food shelves were required to distribute food to families and individuals a minimum of once a month if they received government surplus food, according to a hunger relief organization called Hunger Solutions Minnesota.
“Before, it was left up to the individual food shelves,” Neumann explained.
When Neumann was a volunteer in 1983, she remembers serving people about three times per year.
“As the economy started getting worse, then it was five or six times a year,” she said.
The past few years, McLeod County has been providing assistance as needed.
There were 130 households in 2010 that used the food shelf more than five times. In 2009, that number was 95.
After the March food drive, donations are ideally supposed to last until the fall. This year, however, Neumann is already purchasing more food.
“Right now, I’ve got empty shelves,” she said. “The summer is the busiest, because that’s when kids are home from school. That’s also when we get the least amount of donations.”
Neumann has heard some people say that the migrant workers drive up the usage in the summer. However, migrants account for a relatively small percentage of total recipients.
In 2010, 372 migrant workers utilized the food shelf. Also, Seneca pays for a portion of the food distributed to migrants, Neumann added.
Donations to the food shelf are greatly appreciated, according to Neumann. In 2010, $194,691 in cash was given, along with 239,578 pounds of food.
An organization called Second Harvest Heartland supplied an additional 72,836 pounds of food.
Very little of the McLeod Emergency Food Shelf donations are used for administrative purposes.
“Ninety-seven point six percent of donations go for the program,” Neumann said, adding that she works hard to keep expenses down any way she can.
The office equipment is second-hand, and the newsletter is printed on Neumann’s own copy machine.
The McLeod Emergency Food Shelf has two sites: 808 12th St. E. inGlencoe, and 105 2nd Ave. SW in Hutchinson.
For more information, call (320) 864-2088.