Need for Food Shelf knows no season

Staff photo by Connor Cummiskey Executive Director Brad Kirk stands next to the Food Shelf sign at 1305 S. Valley Street. The New Ulm Area Emergency Food Shelf offers low-income families monthly rations of staple foods to help make ends meet.

NEW ULM — During the giving season The New Ulm Emergency Food Shelf receives a lot of support to help families feed themselves.

The food shelf serves roughly 175 families per month, a recent increase since August. That demand can make it hard to keep the shelves well stocked.

“They may be full today, but tomorrow they might not be,” Executive Director Brad Kirk said. “Just this month we have given away over 17,000 pounds of food.”

That food has gone to over 1,750 individuals in November. Over 2017 the food shelf has given out over 208,000 pounds of food to over 5,000 people.

If the average can of soup varies between 10.5-ounces and 15-ounces that would come to somewhere between 221,867 and 316,953 cans of soup.

Staff photo by Connor Cummiskey Much of the food at the food shelf is stored on large metal shelves. Volunteers Carol Muller, left, Sue Liesch, middle, and Jackie Roesch, right, stock food on the shelves.

Canned food including soup, vegetables and beans are a mainstay of the food shelf, a donation it always welcomes, Kirk said. Though the food shelf needs a lot more than just canned goods, it takes all sorts of donations.

“Your soups, your fruits and vegetables and your pasta (…),” Kirk said. “Not your microwave stuff, something you can cook. Your tuna, your chicken, canned meals and stuff like that.”

That food gets sorted into milk crates, with different amounts for different sized families. The shelf keeps two crates of each size on hand to give out, Kirk said.

Families can get food once per month. To qualify for the food the family has to come in, fill out a form and declare their income at 200 percent of the federal poverty rate. They must also live within Independent School District 88.

For a family of one, 200 percent of poverty is $21,660 yearly income or less. A family of four qualifies with an income of $44,100 or less.

Staff photo by Connor Cummiskey Volunteer Judy Besemer gathers frozen foods from the large freezers where they are stored.

Between noon and 3 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, with an additional window from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. the first Monday of every month, families can come and collect their preselected goods.

If the first Monday falls on a holiday, the food shelf will move its extra hours to the following Monday.

Most families come in at the beginning of the month. January and August tend to be the busiest months, Kirk said.

On the other hand, most the donations come in during the end of the year.

“We get a lot of our donations from the middle of October to Christmas,” Kirk said.

The food shelf utilizes a food rescue program as well. Through that, food that is rejected by stores because it is damaged, or food that is past its sell-by date, are sent to the food shelf.

“The food rescue program we have is great in town,” Kirk said. “We get food three times a week from Cash Wise, Walmart, ALDI, Hy-Vee and Kwik Trip.”

Another source of food is The Emergency Assistance Program (TEFAP). It is a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program organized through the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) to deliver commodities based on population and poverty data, according to a DHS fact sheet.

What the food shelf does not get in donations, it buys itself. It can purchase bulk food items at very low prices, often only paying for the shipping Kirk said.

“We buy through Second Harvest (Food Bank), which is pennies on the dollar,” Kirk said. “I can get a case of beans for probably $3, where it would cost $30 at the grocery.”

Which is why cash donations are important to the food shelf. Along with leveraging its purchasing power, cash helps keep the lights on and the freezers cold.

“Of course like any business, we have overhead,” Kirk said. “We have got to pay for electricity, we have to pay insurance and anything else. Cash donations are always welcome too.”

The electric bill itself runs about $500 a month, Kirk said. That increased recently with an addition the food shelf made in back. It needed to add room for cold storage, including walk-in freezer he said.

Another new program added to the food shelf space this summer is the Nutrition Assistance Program for Seniors (NAPS).

NAPS is unaffiliated with the food shelf, though it shares the building. The program supplies seniors over 60 who meet income guidelines living in the state but not in a facility that prepares their meals with food, according to the Minnesota Department of Health website.

The program provides canned fruits and vegetables, shelf-stable low-fat milk, low-fat cheese, canned meat and grains, according to the website.

NAPS is the Minnesota version of the USDA’s Commodity Supplemental Foods Program and is aimed at providing nutrition at no cost to the recipient, according to the website.

To volunteer at the food shelf, apply for NAPS or to ask any further questions call Kirk at (507) 354-7668 or visit the food shelf at 1305 S. Valley St.