The Westonka Food Shelf is one of nearly 300 food shelves around the state that will be participating in the Minnesota FoodShare March Campaign to address food insecurity and poverty in the community. Between Feb. 27 and April 9, WFS will be collecting food and funds, which will be proportionately matched so donations go even further.
“This is the only time of the year that we actively pursue donations,” said Michelle Bottenfield, WFS director. “We are a donation and volunteer-based organization, and the March donations make up a large chunk of our operating budget.”
In order to meet its donation goals, WFS has a full calendar of events planned throughout the month of March. Its online silent auction will run from March 11-19 and will include several hundred items that have been donated by volunteers and local organizations. WFS is also inviting local churches to “Pack the Pews” with donations
In 2022, WFS served nearly 3,000 families and, for the first time ever, distributed over a million pounds of food, personal hygiene, and household products. Local partners including Lunds & Byerlys, Jubilee, Aldi, Kowalski’s, Cub, Trader Joe’s, Panera, Target, Donation Garden, Milio’s, Crumbl Cookies, Ames Farm, Gale Woods Farm, Orono Market, Grow Garden, Charlson Meadows, and the Arboretum, donated over 480,000 pounds. of fresh produce, meats, dairy and bread.
According to Bottenfield, WFS felt the pressure of food supply cost increases combined with a significantly larger patron base in 2022. With inflation and economic instability, projections are indicating further increase in food shelf needs for 2023. Recently, egg prices have been a hot topic in the news, and WFS saw prices for a case of 15 dozen eggs rise from $21.99 in January 2022 to $50.65 this month.
“What we have noticed is that families that were making it before who were living paycheck to paycheck are not making it post-pandemic,” said Bottenfield. “And that’s with two adults working full time.”
In addition to its regular day-to-day distribution efforts, WFS hosted six free farmers markets in 2022 as part of its health equity initiative, which included 50 different varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables. WFS also expanded its outreach with a new satellite food shelf at the Gillespie Center to better serve local seniors.
Another initiative that WFS is working on to expand food access is erecting free food huts at local churches. Similar to the concept of little lending libraries, the raised huts have a door and will contain non-perishable items that won’t freeze in the wintertime. Local area Scouts groups and the Gillespie Center Men’s Shed group will help to build them.
Some of the items that WFS is most in need of include healthy kids snacks, chunky soups, healthy kids cereals, peanut butter, jars of spaghetti sauce, personal hygiene items, diapers, baby wipes, lotion, and deodorant. Another popular item that people might not think of is pet food.
“It’s been difficult to get pet food through the food banks recently and it’s expensive in the stores,” said Bottenfield. “If people are struggling with health or mental health issues, a pet can really help provide therapeutic support and it’s important that they get fed too.”
The WFS relies on volunteers to serve in every capacity of the organization, and according to Bottenfield, they are always short-handed. There are numerous opportunities to get involved including assisting patrons in obtaining the food they need, unloading food bank deliveries, stocking shelves, collecting “food rescue” from local partners, sorting donations, providing delivery to homebound patrons, and assisting with administrative and housekeeping duties.
“We currently have 159 volunteers every month, and in 2022 we had over 700 volunteers who donated over 25,000 hours of their time to benefit the food shelf,” said Bottenfield. “We are so thankful for all the support we receive from our dedicated volunteers, community, families, local churches, schools, and businesses. We couldn’t meet the need without it.”
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