WILLMAR -- Dressed in layers to fight off the wind, Peg Fortmann steadily pushed a grocery cart filled with food down First Street in Willmar. But no, she's not a "bag lady," as she jokingly called herself.
Instead, she was wheeling the cart to the Willmar Area Food Shelf earlier this week to donate to the organization's annual food drive, part of the statewide Minnesota FoodShare campaign.
Fortmann is the owner and manager of Curves in Willmar, and during the past month, she has motivated club members to give by promising to wheel donations to the Food Shelf if they met their goal: 650 pounds of food.
The club exceeded that goal by donating nearly 500 pounds of food and raising $175 in cash donations to total 672 pounds, Fortmann said. The food donations ranged from pasta sauce to canned fruit to cupcake mix.
"Our members were very enthusiastic," Fortmann said. "They love to participate and build up the club like this."
Curves does quite a bit of charitable work, Fortmann said, and the annual food drive is always a popular event, because it aligns with the club's goal to help women be physically fit.
"Good nutrition is a part of good health," Fortmann said. "We did all of this to bring attention to the Food Shelf, because they do such important work."
Curves is just one of many individuals and organizations who have donated to this year's food drive, said Christie Kurth, executive director of the Willmar Area Food Shelf. Donations for the food drive will be accepted through Friday, and the Food Shelf has already received 63,562 pounds of food and $102,095 in cash donations, a record amount of donations for the annual food drive.
"We are very pleased with what we've received so far," Kurth said. "We are so appreciative for the continued support to help us meet the community's needs."
Laura Jorgenson, office and volunteer coordinator of the Willmar Food Shelf, said that in the last year, the Food Shelf has seen an increase in the number of people they help. Currently, they serve nearly 800 families a month, she said.
"There are people going hungry in our community," Jorgenson said. "The economy isn't supporting them as it should be. Prices are going up, but their wages aren't. It gets to a point where they have to choose between doctor's visits or buying groceries."
Jorgenson said she hopes that people remember the Food Shelf has a need for donations all year long, not just during the annual food drive. In an average month, the Food Shelf goes through 82,000 pounds of food, she said.
"We all need to eat every day," Jorgenson said. "We need to have groceries every day. Hunger doesn't just go away."
The Kandiyohi County community has always been generous with donations, Jorgenson said.
"Without the community, we couldn't help the families that come through here," she said. "We are just so thankful for that support."
One of those loyal community supporters is Peg Fortmann with Curves, who braved a chilly morning Tuesday to keep her promise to her members -- and to donate to a worthwhile cause.
"We understand that people have needs, and if they can't meet their own needs, we as society need to help them," Fortmann said. "We need to remember to donate food all year long, not just in March."
If you'd like to donate to the Willmar Area Food Shelf, you can drop off items during normal business hours or at the drop boxes in Cash Wise and Cub Foods in Willmar. To make a cash donation, you can visit the Willmar Area Food Shelf, go to willmarafs.org/donate or donate through their Facebook page, Willmar Area Food Shelf.