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March is MN FoodShare Month: Perham Food Shelf continues to see increasing need

Connie Vandermay/FOCUS Volunteers Duane Matz and Lloyd Schultz handle the dairy and frozen meat section at the Perham Food Shelf. Clients are able to choose foods they want in the visitor’s choice system that the food shelf started a couple years ago.

Perham Food Shelf records indicate an 8.4 percent increase in visitors from 2011 to 2012. Nearly 1,300 families receive a total of 100,000 pounds of food each year.

Perham Food Shelf Director John Leikness said in an interview last week that any time there is an increase in visitors, consequently there is a growing need for food and monetary donations.

Though donations are accepted all year, March is always a good time to donate, because a single donation can have a multiplying effect. Thanks to the Minnesota FoodShare Campaign as well as the national Feinstein Challenge, all private donations given throughout the month will earn additional contributions.

The amount the Perham Food Shelf receives from these two challenges varies from year to year depending on the donations Perham gets in comparison to other food shelves across the state.

Last March, the Perham community donated $27,000 in cash and pounds of food, with one pound of food equaling $1.

Perham Food Shelf is considered an emergency food service, providing food to clients in the Perham-Dent School District once a month. Most families visit the food shelf an estimated five times a year.

Perham Food Shelf has an average of 30 visitors each week. Multiply that by the “average family” size of three, and it means the food shelf feeds an estimated 90 people each week, Leikness said.

“When you are really hungry, nothing else matters,” Leikness said.

Unlike most food shelves, which give clients a pre-packed box of food, Perham has been utilizing a client choice system for more than two years. In this system, each client ‘shops’ the store, choosing a certain number of items from each section, depending on family size.

For example, a family of three can choose two items from the baking goods section, three items from canned meats, three from cereal, three from frozen meats and so on. At the end, the cart is pushed onto a ground scale to measure the weight for food shelf records.

Leikness said that in the past the community has been quick to help the food shelf meet its needs.

“It’s amazing what this community does,” Leikness said.

One example of this occurred last month, when four members of the Perham High School football team showed up to help empty the monthly delivery truck.

“I’ve never seen 4,000 pounds of food move so fast,” Leikness said.

For those who want to help the Perham Food Shelf during the March campaign, bring nonperishable items on Tuesday mornings from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., during normal open hours. Local grocery stores also have collection boxes.

As a rule, cash donations stretch further than food because the Perham Food Shelf purchases items from North County Food Bank, which has a purchasing power of three to one. This means every $1 donation buys $3 worth of food.

Monetary donations can be mailed to PO Box 7, Perham, MN 56573, or dropped off at the food shelf.