30th annual March food drive aims to restock shelves

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March isn’t a time of year when Minnesotans tend to think about hunger.

But anti-hunger groups say it’s the perfect time to do something about it.

“Everyone thinks about donating to food shelves during the holiday season and at year-end for the tax benefits,” said Christine Pulver, director of basic needs at Keystone Community Services, which runs three metro-area food shelves. “So we come to March, and some food shelves are looking a little empty.”

Thirty years ago, a group of Minnesota churches set out to change that. They chose March to hold a food drive because it was Lent, a time of sacrifice and thinking about others. Three decades later, Minnesota FoodShare has become a lifeline for many of the state’s 300 food shelves looking ahead to months of high need.

“It’s getting the food shelves stocked, ready for the summer,” said Sara Nelson-Pallmeyer, Minnesota FoodShare director. “And summer is a time when students are home, they’re not getting that free or reduced-price lunch, and many really struggle.”

Organizers of the month-long drive hope to bring in enough resources to cover half of the food distributed by food shelves over the coming year.

The drive relies on schools, churches, and corporations all over the state. Groups hold silent auctions, bake sales, and creative projects of all sorts.

This year, the ICA Food Shelf in Minnetonka aims to break the world record for the largest amount of food collected in a 24-hour period. In previous years, churches held lutefisk dinners, communities packed icehouses with donated food, and ministers promised to get mohawks if their congregations met goals.

Last year, Minnesota FoodShare brought in $7.8 million and 5 million pounds of food. Organizers are sticking with a similar goal this year.

“We realize people are strapped,” said Nelson-Pallmeyer. “We’re trying to fill the need, but we want to be realistic. With the economy just trying to turn around, hopefully, we don’t want to predict that we’re just going to blow it out of the water.”

However, this year she hopes even more people decide to donate cash. Keystone’s Pulver agrees.

“For our program, money is better than food,” Pulver said. “Money stores easiest and goes a little bit farther than food does.” Food shelves are able to buy at discounted rates from food banks and other sources.

That’s not to say Pulver doesn’t welcome food.

“Simple is best, and also high-protein items,” she said. “Think about pantry basics – sugar, flour, cooking oil, pasta, rice. And for high-protein items, think about canned meat, chili, tuna, stew.”

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