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Food shelf drive aims to also collect personal care items

Girl Scout Kalley Prahl, 13, left, and Christie Kurth, director of the Willmar Area Food Shelf, are shown Friday in the non-food area of the food shelf. As a Girl Scout project, Prahl is speaking about the need for personal care items and placing collection boxes for donations of the items. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

WILLMAR -- Families and individuals receiving food assistance at the Willmar Area Food Shelf also need personal care items, and Girl Scout member Kalley Prahl, 13, of Willmar is telling people about it.

She's talking to organizations and placing collection boxes around town where folks can drop off items like toilet paper, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, soap, shampoo, shavers and shaving cream.

Prahl took on the project to earn her Silver Award. It's the second of three awards -- Bronze, Silver and Gold -- that Girl Scouts can earn.

She says the response has been good so far, including a nice cash donation from the Rotary Club. Her project coincides with the annual Minnesota FoodShare March Campaign when Willmar joins 299 other food shelves and pantries around the state in raising food and money to feed the hungry.

This year's statewide theme is "Mission Impossible? Not if you help.'' The campaign hopes to raise 12 million combined pounds and dollars this year.

Willmar Food Shelf Executive Director Christie Kurth worked with Prahl to set up the project. The Willmar Middle School eighth-grader is helping the food shelf promote the new need for non-food items.

"She came to us through a family friend. They had heard we were going to start promoting some of the non-food items that we need for families and she thought it would be a great project,'' says Kurth. "It's really been great to see a young lady take on this mission and bring her ideas and go for it.''

Prahl's mother, Michelle, said the biggest push is promoting the need and educating people "so that when she's done with her project, that the community and the surrounding communities know it's still a need and they'll continue to support the food shelf even though there's no donation boxes around the community.''

For nearly 30 years, the food shelf has been raising food and money donations to feed an increasing number of hungry individuals and families. During the first year of operation in 1982, the food shelf served approximately 60 households per month. In 2010, the food shelf served an average of 674 households per month.

Each March, the food shelf sets a goal. Last year's goal fell just 2,000 shy of 140,000 pounds and dollars combined.

This year's goal is 160,000 pounds and dollars combined. While the goal is daunting, Kurth thinks it's possible. She said the need continues to increase and the cost of food is rising,

"Our mission is to ensure that nobody goes hungry,'' she says. "It seems like an impossible task sometimes, but I know it's not because I know our community and they've stepped up and helped out several times over the years. I know that when we put the word out that we really need it, there will be people there to make sure that we get it to help those that are in need.''

A family can use the food shelf once a month or 12 times per year. The food shelf requires proof of residency in Kandiyohi County and identification for each person in the household.

The main office is located at 624 Pacific Ave. S.W. A satellite office opened in New London in September 2009. The food shelf has three staff members and 35 to 40 volunteers.

Kurth said the number of families needing assistance rose 75 percent from December 2007 through December 2010. For many people, jobs and wages don't match the cost of living. Others during the economic downturn have been hit by frozen wages, cutbacks in hours and increasing health insurance costs.

"The families that we are seeing now are the families that were donors. We're fortunate here in our county and in our area that we haven't seen major layoffs. We've seen businesses with small layoffs or cut hours. Some small stores closing,'' she said.

"But it's those that their hours have been shortened for an extended time now. When they were working full time before, their bills were just being met. When hours are cut, they probably dug into savings or juggled bills. It's just that there's no more juggling.''

There are two ways to donate: food and cash. Food donations help provide balanced, nutritious meals. Cash donations let the food shelf buy food from Second Harvest Food Bank of St. Paul for a low maintenance fee of 4 to 16 cents per pound. A $5 donation feeds a family of five for three days.

During the March campaign, Minnesota FoodShare honors the top 10 pantries and food shelves for their fundraising efforts. Willmar was 26th in 2006 and climbed to 11th in 2010.

If Willmar reaches its goal, Kurth says, the food shelf will be in the top 10.

"I know that if we reach that 160,000 that we'd be breaking that top 10 spot and I'd love to go out there and get that award, not for the food shelf, but as a thank-you to the residents of Kandiyohi County for all the continued support throughout the 29 years that we've served the community,'' she said.

Events this month

WILLMAR -- Churches, clubs and organizations are raising cash and food donations for the Willmar Area Food Shelf during the March FoodShare Campaign.

Scheduled events include:

* Tribune carriers will collect non-perishable food items from customers who leave their donations at the door when the newspaper is delivered Saturday morning.

* "Radio For Relief,'' live broadcast by Lakeland Broadcasting stations KWLM, Q102, Big Country and The Train, from 6 to 10 a.m. March 25 at the Willmar Fire Station parking lot.

* Whitney Music and Jazz & Java, 913 Highway 71 N.E., "Sing For Their Supper,'' featuring local talent from 3 to 5 p.m. March 26. All proceeds from admission and cash donated to support the singers, and a percentage of the day's business, will go to the food shelf.

* Woodbury Chorus and Orchestra, "A King's Songbook,'' a musical celebration of the Psalms, 4 p.m. March 27 at Vinje Lutheran Church, 1101 Willmar Ave. S.W. All proceeds of a freewill offering will benefit the food shelf.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150