Recession hits more than pocketbooks
DETROIT LAKES -- Besides hitting people in the pocketbook, the recession is hitting stomachs as well.
Becker County Human Services has seen the number of cases rise dramatically since 2003.
Financial support manager Sam Pierson said that the number of Food Support, i.e. food stamps, cases since 2003 has risen from 625 active cases to 1,432 currently. A case is either a family or an individual being helped.
The total number of cases, including Food Support, medical assistance, and cash assistance has also risen, but not as dramatically. From 2003, the total number of cases has gone from 2,802 to 3,644 - representing more than 10 percent of the county's population.
"They're going up each and every month," Pierson said.
The change is attributed to the economy and also Human Services getting the word out to more residents of the programs that are out there.
"We're doing a better job of having people apply for all of the programs and giving them the information," said Becker County Human Services Director Nancy Nelson.
Eligibility for Food Support is based on income, with a family of four needing to make less than $28,668 annually to qualify.
There are several additional factors involved in becoming eligible for these programs. Becker County Human Services goes through the complete eligibility requirements once an application is made.
Food stamp benefits went up slightly earlier this year as a result of the federal stimulus. The average bump in benefits is between $20-$40 per month.
The county offers a one-stop center of services where one application is needed to apply for several different programs.
"One of the things we have to get over is the connotation of welfare," Pierson said. "Some people are very proud and don't want to come in here."
Pierson said that Food Support is not designed to pay for everything, but help supplement income to pay for food.
The Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program went through big changes as well, with guidelines taking effect Aug.1
Fresh fruits and vegetables, along with bread are now available.
Getting the food, though, is an issue as grocery stores need to stock 1-pound loaves of eligible bread. The standard size for a loaf of bread is 20 ounces.
The change has been a learning opportunity for both grocery store employees and WIC participants, as different types of products have moved on and off the eligibility list.
Income guidelines for WIC are less stringent than other programs -- a family of four making less than $40,793 qualifies for benefits.
More information on Food Support and WIC is available in-person at the Human Services Building at 712 Minnesota Ave. in Detroit Lakes. Food Support information is available by calling 847-5628. WIC information is available by calling 847-5628, ext. 5398 or 5402.
Food pantry serving more clients
In addition to the help that various government agencies provide, the Becker County Food Panty is seeing an increased need.
Alice Hammer, administrative assistant for the food pantry, has seen the number of clients almost double in the past few years.
The demand for food ebbs and flows, with the pantry serving a dozen families one day and close to 50 on another.
"A week ago, we had 85 families in two days," Hammer said.
The number of families served by the food panty has nearly doubled since 2000.
Donations are always needed, with Wal-Mart stepping in to provide needed items.
Wal-Mart has been donating salvage items -- canned food that has been dented or food in boxes that have been torn.
"That has been a real godsend for us," Hammer said.
In addition to that, Wal-Mart has been donating salvageable meat.
Area churches have also responded to a call for help. Individuals are now allowed to donate fresh fruits and vegetables.
"Today, we've been getting green beans and cabbage," Hammer said Tuesday.
"The community helps out a lot with that."
Clients can visit the food pantry four times in a six-month period. The food panty itself does not determine eligibility, but relies on a voucher program.
Vouchers are available through Becker County Human Services, Mahube Community Council, Lakeland Mental Health Center and through several area churches.
'Angel Food' helps
One local church has a unique approach to food.
The Detroit Lakes Assembly of God church launched a program to provide boxes of food to church and non-church members alike at a substantial discount.
Rev. Jeff Culver, pastor at Assembly of God, said that the savings approach 50 percent.
Angel Food Ministries does not provide day-old or off-brand food. Suppliers include name brands such as General Mills, Con Agra and Tyson, along with numerous others. It's a national program hosted by local churches.
About 240 people have ordered food in its busiest month in the program's short life in the area thus far, Culver said. That's a dramatic increase from the 34 families who bought the first round of orders in April.
"One of things that we're finding with our customers is that it's so much food that they don't order for every month because they have so much stuff from last month," Culver said.
For two months, Assembly of God was the second-largest Angel Food host in the state.
"I'm surprised that more people aren't taking advantage of it," Culver said of the program's popularity. "I know that people are struggling out here financially."
The program can offer lower prices because it's run on a non-profit basis. Culver said he still gets calls asking "Is this for real?" because some think there are strings attached.
"So many programs come with strings and this honestly doesn't," Culver said.
There are several types of food boxes available, ranging from the "Signature Box" for $30 that provides a week's worth of food for a family of four. There are also heat-and-serve boxes available for seniors or those on the go for $28.
There are also boxes available for those that need allergen-free food, or special all-meat or fruit and vegetables boxes as well.
"The fruit and vegetable boxes are very popular," Culver said. "And so are the steak boxes."
One benefit of using the Angel Food program is that it participates in the EBT or Food Stamp program.
"You can really push your EBT money quite a ways with this thing and free up your money for other stuff," Culver said.
Food can be ordered online or at the Assembly of God church. More information on Angel Food Ministries is available at angelfoodministries.com.