Ides of March not for idling

Neighbors, Inc. volunteers Angela Rud, left, Sue Hanebuth, and Geri Bares, right, arrange pizza pies by size for a more organized freezer. (Jesse Poole/Review )
Neighbors, Inc. volunteers Angela Rud, left, Sue Hanebuth, and Geri Bares, right, arrange pizza pies by size for a more organized freezer. (Jesse Poole/Review )
Neighbors volunteer Angela Rud of Inver Grove Heights organizes items at the food shelf Wednesday morning. (Jesse Poole/Review )
Neighbors volunteer Angela Rud of Inver Grove Heights organizes items at the food shelf Wednesday morning. (Jesse Poole/Review )
Neighbors volunteer Geri Bares, nicknamed “Soup Lady,” picks up one of the offerings food shelf clients take right away: chicken noodle soup. Bares is in charge of organizing the many donations of soups coming in this month.  (Jesse Poole/Review )
Neighbors volunteer Geri Bares, nicknamed “Soup Lady,” picks up one of the offerings food shelf clients take right away: chicken noodle soup. Bares is in charge of organizing the many donations of soups coming in this month. (Jesse Poole/Review )
Rebecca Ruddy, Neighbors food shelf manager, digs through one of many boxes of beef jerky donated by Sportsman’s Guide of South St. Paul. The store donated 206 pounds of the protein for Minnesota FoodShare’s March Campaign.  (Jesse Poole/Review )
Rebecca Ruddy, Neighbors food shelf manager, digs through one of many boxes of beef jerky donated by Sportsman’s Guide of South St. Paul. The store donated 206 pounds of the protein for Minnesota FoodShare’s March Campaign. (Jesse Poole/Review )

Statewide food drive boosts Neighbors’ supplies

The South St. Paul Mayor’s Youth Task Force has set itself a lofty goal, one the U.S. Postal Service might be proud of: to help collect 55,075 pounds of food in March.

The oddly specific number represents the city’s numerical ZIP code, translated into quite a hefty load of edible goods.  

Goal: to stock for summer

Minnesota FoodShare, a program of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches, is encouraging residents to contribute to its annual March Campaign food and fund drive across the state. South St. Paul’s ZIP code contribution is part of that effort.

All the non-perishable foods collected in Northern Dakota County will be donated to Neighbors, Inc. for distribution. The nonprofit’s food shelf in South St. Paul is one of approximately 300 food pantries across Minnesota benefiting from the campaign.  

“The March Campaign is a tremendous help,” said Neighbors program director Joan Rhodes. “It’s essentially free advertising. It’s well-known and people are aware of it and the need.”

According to Rhodes, the timing is vital, as food shelves’ holiday season stock dwindles and they restock for the summer.

Summer is a notoriously low-donation season, but it’s not low-need. In fact, the need for food often rises, as kids who get lunch and perhaps breakfast at school are home for the summer.

Neighbors is Northern Dakota County’s only food shelf, meaning all donations collected in the area go to the non-profit, thus directly serving families in the same area.

“The need is incredible,” said Rhodes. “And it’s doubled since 2010.”

Neighbors began in 1972, serving about 30 families. Today, the food shelf serves up to 600 families.

Community efforts

“Everything is lining up,” said South St. Paul community affairs liaison Deb Griffith. “The official kick-off [for the city] actually isn’t until March 16 at the city council meeting.”

She said it’s a lot easier to squeeze a busy food drive into a week or two, rather than to keep energy going for a whole month straight.

Griffith added that the energy for the drive has already been bubbling. “We’re hearing the buzz out there, so that’s good. People have been reaching out to us and wanting to get involved.”

According to Griffith, who with Mayor Beth Baumann helps organize the Youth Task Force, it’s not only the Task Force that is involved, though its goal is to be an important driving force.

Other groups participating, according to Minnesota FoodShare director Suzanne Shatila, are churches observing “Pack the Pews,” an event at which congregants and others line their church pews with foods to be donated.

Local shops and businesses are also finding ways to donate, from holding their own drives to offering specials to customers who donate.

Big steps

Last year South St. Paul’s goal was 30,000 pounds, and the city collected 47,000 pounds. This year the city’s chosen number of pounds is more than a third of the entire intended Neighbors goal of 150,000 pounds. That’s about the weight of a fuel-less space shuttle!

“This year we’re going all out,” said Griffith. “The demand is there. And, anyway, anybody can do 20,000 or 30,000 pounds.”

She joked that Inver Grove Heights could do a notch better than South St. Paul, as its ZIP code is 55076 and it could top South St. Paul’s effort by a pound. The same principle goes with the other cities, she said.  

West St. Paul Mayor David Meisinger said that though there is no formally-organized city collection, folks all over Northern Dakota County are contributing.

“For example, I know St. Thomas Academy collected a whole bunch of food,” Meisinger said.

Indeed, the Mendota Heights school said it collected 9,800 pounds of food as of the beginning of March.

Now’s the time

“Around the holidays, people are generous,” Shatila explained. “They want to make sure people in their communities are fed, especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

But what happens after that?

“The fact is, donations tend to taper off after the holidays, while food shelves still need to feed hungry people,” Shatila said. “This is a chance for food shelves like Neighbors to restock their shelves.”

Jesse Poole can be reached at 651-748-7815 and jpoole@lillienews.com.
 

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