Food shelves see more visitors: March goal is $60,000 and 70,000 pounds of food

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A volunteers at 360 Communities stocks food donations at the Burnsville Food Shelf. The Burnsville location saw a 43 percent increase in visits for 2012. (Photo submitted)

Burnsville resident Jackie Butler came to Minnesota in July 2012 when her company transferred her from Baltimore. Butler and her 9-year-old daughter had settled in until Butler’s contract ended in November, and she was laid off without any income. For the first time in Butler’s life, she was unemployed and unable to provide for her daughter.

“I was down and embarrassed. I never thought I would find myself there,” she said. “I have adult children, and as a nurse, I was able to be a great provider to them.”

Uncertain how to find or ask for help, Butler had an unexpected call from “an absolute angel.”

Nikki Johnson, a family support worker at Orchard Lake Elementary School in Lakeville, heard about Butler’s unemployment from her daughter. Johnson called Butler and offered to connect her with a Lakeville food shelf and the Salvation Army so her daughter could celebrate Christmas.

Johnson is part of the Partners in Success Program supported by the nonprofit 360 Communities that puts workers in schools to connect people who need assistance with help. The program reflects the organization’s mission to provide holistic help to families in need.

“To me it was a godsend. They happened into my life in a time when there was a serious need, and they were there,” she said.

The first time Butler went to the Feed My Sheep Food Shelf at Messiah Lutheran Church in Lakeville, she said, “I was very embarrassed that I was actually going to accept help.”

That feeling quickly changed when the first woman she saw gave her a big hug.

“Never at any point did anyone I interact with at 360 or Messiah make me feel bad about it. Everyone I have come in contact with has helped me feel positive and made me feel so supported,” she said.

Butler’s situation is not uncommon at 360 Communities. While the economy is on the upswing, the five local food shelves connected with 360 Communities have seen an 18 percent increase in visits last year. For the first fiscal quarter year over year that number is up almost 26 percent. More than 830,000 pounds of food were distributed across Farmington, Lakeville, Rosemount, Apple Valley and Burnsville at food shelves.

“We are seeing an increase across the board,” said Anika Rycher, 360 Communities lead director of services. “We really see the gamut. We’re seeing senior citizens on fixed incomes that rely on the food shelf on a regular basis, people with disabilities on a fixed incomes, families with small children, school-age children.”

The biggest increase in food shelf visits was at the Burnsville location – up 43 percent. This coincides with Burnsville’s poverty rate: One in 10 people live in poverty, according to the 2009-2011 American Community Survey of Dakota County.

Minnesota FoodShare, another nonprofit advocacy group, reports that Minnesota saw record levels of hunger relief programs in 2012, including food shelves, subsidized school lunches and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. All school districts in the cities 360 Communities has food shelves have seen an increase in students receiving free or reduced lunch.
March food drives

March is Minnesota FoodShare Month, when more than 300 food shelves across the state, including 360 Communities, launch a food drive campaign to fill shelves when food runs short. More than 50 businesses, in addition to churches, schools and other organizations in the community, have pledged to help 360 Communities meet its goal to raise $60,000 and 70,000 pounds of food in March. That amount will help feed 11,300 people for one week.

When this paper went to press, 360 Communities had raised a total of $17,828 and 24,722 pounds of food with one more week left. At the beginning of the month, the Burnsville Family Resource Center had empty shelves. Tony Compton, 360 Communities’ marketing and communications coordinator, put a photo on Facebook, and the photo was passed around, filling the shelves within a matter of days.

“We have a community that really sees what their stake is in making sure that people are supported,” Compton said. Without these contributions and the help of 1,125 volunteers, he said, 360 Communities could not serve all the people it does.

“Food is easy for people to get excited about because it is tangible, and it is the most basic of needs,” Rycher said. “I could do a food drive in my business or community; but when you bring food or financial dollars to 360 Communities, it goes far beyond the need for food.”

The organization also provides support for women in abusive situations and educational support for families through programs like Partners in Success, among other resources.

After relying on a food shelf for a few months, Butler just accepted a new job. She hopes to volunteer with 360 Communities and give back to the people who gave her so much.

At 4-8 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26, Burnsville Costco will open its doors to non-members to buy food donations for 360 Communities.