Original article published in the Mower County Independent, Thursday March 10th, 2022. Reprinted with permission and gratitude.
By Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy
“Donations of food and money have continued to be strong. We have a giving community!” declared Spring Valley Area Food Shelf volunteer Carol Gross, extending her appreciation to generous individuals who have sustained the local food pantry with their donations throughout the past two years as economic conditions have shifted during the COVID pandemic.
Gross recounted how benefactors have kept the supplemental food program viable, even outside of the Minnesota FoodShare March Campaign that takes place each year to round up cans, boxes and bags of food for the greater good of Minnesotans who use food shelf services.
“We did not accept food drives in 2020 and early 2021, but they have now resumed. In fact, we received over 600 pounds of food from Kingsland National Honor Society (KHS) on Friday. Kingsland school groups have several food drives during the year. They make it a competition between the classes, and there is always good participation.
“In the past, we have had food drives from Scouts and postal workers. Occasionally, the community has encouraged attendees at events to bring food products. Most of the churches have donation boxes, and Sunshine Foods and Dollar General have donation boxes as well. Several businesses have supported us with generous donations. One business came and asked what we needed and then donated a huge supply of non-food items that we were in need of.
“Individual donations are greatly appreciated, and we and our shoppers look forward to garden produce in the summer…we do have fresh fruit and vegetables available on most days. During the summer, we always have produce available.”
Additionally, she said, “Our needs vary from week to week and season to season. The empty spots on the shelves right now are in canned fruit and juices. We don’t always have baking supplies, so when we get them, they go out the door quickly. We do well during the holiday seasons – especially Thanksgiving. The Fillmore County Salvation Army gives us complete Christmas and Easter dinners in a box that we can give out, mostly to our large families. But our community seems to think of us during the rest of the year also.”
Gross listed the food shelf’s challenges, sharing, “Our challenges are basically having the kind of food available that our shoppers want. Channel One, our main supplier, occasionally cannot get certain items, so then we can’t get them either. When we are unable to get the items we need from Channel One or donations, we buy locally. This is especially true of meat and fruit, but also includes other things we are short of. We are a food shelf, but we also have cleaning supplies, paper supplies and personal items. We are happy to get these products donated as well.
“Probably our biggest challenge is how to get out the word that we are here, and we look forward to new shoppers. We had decreased use of the food shelf in 2020 and 2021. So far in 2022, we are up from then. However, we are still below 2019 usage. We can easily supply more shoppers. We know there are people out there with food needs, but we can’t seem to reach them…please come. We welcome everyone.” And as for the rewards, she stated, “I’m not sure what the rewards are to others. For me, it is knowing that I am helping to provide a service that is needed. We have the very best volunteers. We can always staff it on the open days. Our volunteers take ownership in the food shelf. They care about and assist our shoppers in many ways. They make good decisions when un- foreseen incidents come up. They are there on shopper days, on truck delivery days, on days when we check donated food for out-of-date items. We can always use new volunteers. The advantage to new volunteers is that they can schedule their own time. Many of our volunteers work only once a month.”
Those volunteers gladly invite shoppers to step into the East Jefferson Street building where they work hard to provide a dignified grocery experience.
Gross observed, “During 2020 and part of 2021, we had shopping from the curb, where the shoppers filled out a wish list and then we did the shopping. Things are back to the usual way of going shopping now. However, we do try to have only two shoppers at a time. Also, we have taken off the limits of the amount of food shoppers can take. We do continue to encourage shopping only once a month. We have the same hours— Wednesdays from 2 to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 to 11 a.m. We have a few shoppers without transportation, so we have contracted with Rolling Hills Transport based in Kasson to provide fare-free rides; however, this is only on Wednesdays from 2:30 to 3:15. Shoppers can call 800- 528-7622 to arrange for a pickup.”
She reiterated the invitation for community members who need supplemental food to take advantage of the food shelf’s benefits. “We accept everyone. There are forms to fill out, but income guidelines are exceedingly generous. We do emphasize that we are a supportive food agency; we do not attempt to provide all of a family’s food.”
Minnesota FoodShare’s March Campaign is a project of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches (GMCC) that ad- ministers and oversees participation in the annual effort to gather food to be distributed to food shelves within the state to bene- fit people who are food insecure. This year’s campaign began on Feb. 28 and will last until April 10, offering plenty of opportunity for raising awareness of hunger and how anyone can help by giving food items and cash to local food shelves.
GMCC’s website related, “GMCC’s Minnesota FoodShare began its work in 1982 as a campaign advanced by congregations to restock food shelves in the seven-county Twin Cities Metropolitan area.” Now in its 41st year, it brings together organizations, businesses, faith communities, and individuals to help stock and support nearly 300 food shelves. In fact, the 2021 March Campaign results found $13,076,992 raised by food shelves; 6,485,390 pounds of food collected; and $234,762 distributed to participating food shelves. Also, money donated allows food shelf administration to purchase even more items than an individual could buy and donate with the equivalent amount of money.
For more information on how to donate food or funds, volunteer or receive supplemental food from the local food shelf, log onto the Spring Valley city website at www.springvalleymn.com, or the food shelf’s Facebook page listed under “Spring Valley Area Food Shelf.”