Community Food Shelf director, Ruth Nelson retired from her volunteer position July 31 but she was on the job as a volunteer when the food shelf held a produce day in the parking lot at First Lutheran, Aug. 1.
The Community Food Shelf has been in operation at First Lutheran for 20 years and Nelson has been a volunteer for 18 years. “First Lutheran Pastor Bob Munneke asked if I would volunteer at the food shelf,” said Nelson. “I was a regular volunteer for several years before I became co-director with Jan Dickenson. That progressed to my becoming the director.”
The food shelf is open every second and fourth Thursday of the month. “We serve about 162 families each month,” continued Nelson, “and distribute 80-90,000 pounds of food per year with people from the Aitkin County area. It’s the volunteers that keep it going. We have 34 total volunteers, and have about 14 each day helping clients; others stock shelves and unload the produce from the truck.” Vegetables, fruits, soups, bread, meat, milk, cheese, baking supplies, pancake mixes are available.
A typical family of four can receive 30 pounds of food each visit, not including meat, vegetables and bread. “We encourage the families to visit only once per month, but we never turn them away,” added Nelson. There are no requirements or papers to fill out, but Nelson stated that they must show a valid driver’s license to verify that they are from the Aitkin area. “We have served people from Isle, Deerwood, and Palisade. Some of the clients work in the area, and it’s convenient for them to use the Community Food Shelf.
“It’s such a reward knowing that we are helping people who are in need. All of the clients have stories to share and it makes me feel good that we have so many volunteers to help at the food shelf to help out,” added Nelson. “We recently had a gentleman stop who was returning home to recover from surgery and had no food at home. It was a wonderful feeling to help him. One of the great pleasures for me is seeing the smiles on the children’s faces when we send them extra cookies or treats.”
Working families provide the majority of the clients for the Community Food Shelf and senior citizens are second.
It takes between $45,000 and $50,000 per year to operate the Community Food Shelf. “We are so lucky to have such a caring and sharing community, concluded Nelson. “There is always enough money to purchase food from Second Harvest and some meat from Paulbecks County Market. Most of the funds are received during the March campaign.
What has changed over the years, according to Nelson, is the increase in the amount of food distributed and the quality of the food items to choose from. “We are a miniature grocery store.”