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Food shelves see more clients as household budgets get tighter – Post Bulletin

LAKE CITY — Business has picked up a bit at the Lake City Food Shelf.

“I’ve been coming here for a couple of months,” said Judith Smith, who came to pick up food mainly for her adult kids.

All of them work, she said, but with gas prices getting higher and food prices going up, the food shelf has been a resource to help them all stretch their budgets. She said one daughter in particular needs a little help making ends meet.

“As much as I’m struggling too, she’s struggling worse,” Smith said.

That struggle has shown up in the numbers for the food shelf.

Carole Helgerson, director of the food shelf, said from January to February, the number of families coming to the food shelf went from 88 to 94, and amount of food jumped from 8,165 pounds of food to 9,619 pounds.

That’s a common story around the region, said Jessica Sund, director of development and communications at Channel One Regional Food Bank in Rochester.

“We definitely have seen an increase in need,” Sund said. “Inflation has taken quite a toll, and there are vulnerable populations and people living paycheck to paycheck.”

Lake City Food Shelf

Lake City Food Shelf director Carole Helgerson on Thursday, March 24, 2022, in Lake City.

Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

Sund said that over the last year, Channel One has seen an increase in about 100 to 150 new clients each month. That adds up over the course of a year.

“In February 2022, we saw 4,469 households,” Sund said. “A year ago, we’d average 2,500 to 3,000 households a month.”

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COVID has played a big role in how food shelves operate. Helgerson said that before the pandemic, Lake City Food Shelf limited clients to one visit per month. But that changed during the pandemic when people found themselves in a more precarious situation with regard to food insecurity.

And the food shelf isn’t changing that policy now that COVID is less of a concern because inflation is putting more and more pressure on families trying to make ends meet.

“Some people who come here, they’re just fortunate to survive,” Helgerson said. “We don’t know that they’re going through.”

For the month of March, the Lake City Food Shelf also handed out $35 gas cards to clients.

Helgerson said the money was available thanks to generous donations to the food shelf. And with March being Food Shelf Month in Minnesota, the Greater Lake City Community Foundation is offering a donation match to help raise funds for the local food bank.

“That’s how we’re able to afford that (the gas cards),” Helgerson said.

“This community is so supportive of this facility,” said volunteer Mavis Hawkins.

Lake City Food Shelf

Kathy Wigern, Lake City Food Shelf volunteer, picks out items for a client Thursday, March 24, 2022, in Lake City.

Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

Sund said one of the things she hopes people understand is that getting food from Channel One or one of the region’s many food shelves shouldn’t come with a stigma.

“So many people are a $300 emergency away from poverty,” Sund said. “And 60% of our households are working individuals. But there’s extreme poverty, even among people working two or three jobs trying to make ends meet.”

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Channel One provides food for 183 food programs across 14 counties, Sund said.

Still, Helgerson said, providing what people want can be difficult. She noted that some items are getting harder and harder to find, whether they are ordered from Channel One or purchased from their local grocer.

“Right now, once we’re done with the apple juice we have, it’s gone,” she said.

Still, most basic necessities are on the shelves and available.

In Lake City, clients come and turn in a shopping list, picking items from a pre-printed list. The food shelf has 25 volunteers who take shifts throughout the month then “shop” for those items and take them out to the clients’ cars.

Another 15 or so volunteers stock shelves, order food or help in other ways, Helgerson said.

Sund said each food shelf around the region works differently, but all are doing what they can to keep people from going hungry.

“The hardest part is coming in the door,” Sund said. “But food is a basic human right, and we all should have access to healthy food.”

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