Pastor Debra Jene Collum poses for a portrait on Tuesday, November 10, 2020, during open hours for the food pantry at Chatfield United Methodist Church in Chatfield. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Pastor Debra Jene Collum poses for a portrait on Tuesday, November 10, 2020, during open hours for the food pantry at Chatfield United Methodist Church in Chatfield. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

Carole Helgerson, director of the Lake City Food Shelf, said the community has been very generous, helping with $25 gift cards for local Fiesta Foods in December, as well as holiday foods starting around Thanksgiving. But while the donations to supply holiday fare should help stave off hunger in Lake City, there are still needs at the food shelf.

"Our biggest issue is getting enough volunteers," she said. "The people that we get are basically retired people, so not everyone is able to lift 45-50 pounds."

COVID-19 impacts

Heidi Albarado is the director of the Pierce County Food Pantry in Ellsworth. She explained that she has seen a continual rise in demand at the pantry. "We’re looking at at least 25% increase each month," Albarado said.

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Wendy Todd, outreach and emergency services director for SEMCAC Community Action Agency, which operates food shelves in four towns in southeastern Minnesota, said the supply of food for communities is not the main problem they are facing right now.

Again, the biggest hurdle: finding volunteers.

When COVID-19 hit, the four SEMCAC food shelves went from being like grocery stores where customers came in and picked their own items to having the food picked out for them and delivered to their cars. That meant a more labor-intensive process.

While most SEMCAC shelves have moved away from the delivery model and back to the store-like model, the one in Rushford still takes calls, picks items for customers, and delivers them in boxes, for example.

Virginia Merritt, executive director for Channel One Regional Food Bank, which acts as a warehouse supplier for many of the regional food shelves, said getting more volunteers is important.

"We really need people who are physically able and not at all COVID high-risk," she said.

Red Wing Area Food Shelf has several types of jobs available for all ages and abilities. Food must be gathered from different sources and collection points. Shelves need to be stocked weekly. Recordkeepers, food distributors, and shoppers are among the needs, the website states. The shelf notes that clients are welcome to volunteer when they are no longer receiving food.

Hunger is coming back

COVID-19 has also had a big impact on family finances. Merritt said when COVID-19 took off and the economic shutdown followed, they saw increased need for food in late March and early April. But as soon as stimulus checks and the additional $600 for unemployment insurance came through from the federal government, the demand actually went down.

"Those ended around Labor Day, and we're slowly seeing distributions increase out of our warehouse," she said, adding that September's food requests were up 23.6% from the same time last year, and October trended upward as well.

How to help

The Pierce County Food Pantry, like all pantries, is collecting food and donations for the holidays, everything from turkey and hams to paper products and personal care items.

Individuals can also give monetary donations. One dollar in donations purchases about $4 to $7 worth of food. Those interested can visit hungerpreventioncouncil.com to donate in Wisconsin. In Red Wing, there is a donate tab on the www.redwingfoodshelf.org homepage.

Virginia Merritt, executive director for Channel One Regional Food Bank, said there is a need for people who can help sort food. Anyone interested can go to helpingfeedpeople.org and click on the "Volunteer" button at the top right of the page.