Chili fest begins Willmar Area Food Shelf’s month-long fundraiser
WILLMAR -- A chili fest and cook-off early next week will mark the start of the Willmar Area Food Shelf's annual month-long fundraiser to help feed the area's hungry neighbors.
WILLMAR - A chili fest and cook-off early next week will mark the start of the Willmar Area Food Shelf’s annual month-long fundraiser to help feed the area’s hungry neighbors.
The chili fest from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday at the Willmar Community and Activity Center, 624 Business Highway 71 N.E., will kick off the food shelf’s participation in the annual Minnesota FoodShare March Campaign. The public is invited and a freewill offering will be taken.
Christie Kurth, food shelf executive director, said mayors from area cities will judge chili prepared by teams of firefighters, ambulance volunteers, police, teachers, military, clergy and sports.
“Be the Hero. Fight Hunger’’ is the theme for this year’s campaign. The food shelf is hoping to raise 50,000 pounds of food and $200,000 in cash. Food donations help restock the shelves and cash donations pay for food shelf operations and buy food from Second Harvest Heartland Food Bank of St. Paul at greatly reduced prices.
Cash donations help the food shelf stretch the food dollar. A $10 donation can provide a family of three with a three-day supply of food. The food shelf can buy hamburger, canned fruit, soup and more for only 4 to 16 cents a pound.
“If it wasn’t for Second Harvest and Feeding America, we and other food shelves around the state really couldn’t do what we do,’’ said Kurth.
The Willmar Area Food Shelf has been serving the hungry poor in Kandiyohi County since the food shelf was organized in 1982. In 2009, the food shelf opened a branch office in New London, which was officially named the The New London Area Food Shelf in 2012, and in 2013 opened an office in the Campus Ministry Building at Ridgewater College.
The need for emergency food has been growing. In the first year of operation, the food shelf served approximately 60 households per month. By 2014, the food shelf served an average of 848 households per month.
Among the food shelf’s annual statistics, the number of pounds of food distributed increased during the past year from 1,029,343 pounds in 2013 to 1,201,336 in 2014.
Clients can receive a full food order once a month. But perishable items such as produce and bakery products provided by Cub Foods, Cash Wise, Wal-Mart and ALDI are available more often and do not count toward the monthly food allocation, according to Kurth. Some clients have personal care assistants who stop in the morning and pick up and deliver perishable items to their clients.
“We need to move those (items) fairly quickly,’’ she said. “We want people to use those quickly.’’
Kurth said there is a segment of the population that will always need the food shelf’s assistance. She said those individuals fall into the category of having some chronic illness, whether it be a physical disability or mental disability. They rely on the food shelf as well as social services or other support. They are on a set income, and that income unfortunately does not increase as everything around them increases, Kurth said.
“So they’ve really had to come to rely upon the food shelf as really being part of their monthly budget,’’ she said.
Kurth said a variety of families use the food shelf for a variety of reasons. Some have hit a snag in their life that reduces their income. They come in during that period and then the food shelf may not see them again.
During the summer, the food shelf sees an increase in families with children, but the number drops off in the fall because the kids are getting food in school. Other families just come in for the perishable items and never get a food order. “They just need a few things to help them out,” Kurth said.
Some families are working but cannot make ends meet and need assistance. Kurth said more than 1,500 clients make under $20,000 a year.
“It’s tough for them,’’ she said.
Kurth said the need changes and the families that are served have changed during the past 33 years.
“When you look at the profile of the families that were served during the ’80s or ’90s or early 2000s, I’m guessing they were very different than the profiles of the families that we serve today,’’ Kurth said.
“The faces change, ethnic backgrounds change and the reasons why people end up needing services and stay in the cycle of poverty change,’’ Kurth said. “For 33 years we’ve been able to be successful in serving our neighbors because of our extended outreach into our community and the residents of Kandiyohi County supporting us. But it is ever changing who it is that need our services.’’
For more information about the Willmar Area Food Shelf, visit www.willmarafs.org or call 235-2641.