Foodshelves struggle to feed more with less


Foodshelves have shifted in importance. The man or woman hustling to make ends meet used to turn to them as a resource to fill in gaps around the kitchen. Foodshelves helped stretch salaries, especially a few days before payday, providing staples like meat, bread, canned goods and such.

Increasingly in this steadily worsening economy, foodshelves are a vital lifeline. No longer do they merely add to one’s income. These days they are a significant part of that income with the few days before payday now leaner than ever.

Foodshelves also are among the casualties left in the wake of this financial fiasco to which high-rolling Wall Street, greedy bankers, and ruthless real estate marketers have reduced America.

Sister Norma Booker at Bethesda Baptist Church in South Minneapolis, as church secretary, keeps account of its ability to aid families and individuals in putting food on the table. She’s a no-nonsense lady who spends the day in her office, tending to administrative business.

Holding down the job doesn’t keep her from enjoying a sense of humor, and, indeed, she’s a good-natured soul who enjoys a hearty laugh as much as the next person, maybe a little more. But when she talks about the present state of Bethesda Baptist’s foodshelf, she relates the facts and doesn’t find a great deal to smile about.

There isn’t as much food coming in as there has been. “It’s kind of slow,” she says. “We’ve done a food drive, but you don’t get as many donations as before.”
The church relies on member participation through its ministries and, during drives, will pledge to match donations. In the past, it has worked out well, enabling a household to get through two or three days.

Not so much nowadays.

Fact is, parishioners who want to pitch in have their own mouths to feed. The saying goes, “Charity begins at home.” Well, so does the need to eat.

Annually, the church signs folk up for Thanksgiving and Christmas packages — a turkey or Cornish hens along with side items like cranberry sauce and whatnot. In 2008, the church had to limit its Christmas list to those who weren’t on the Thanksgiving roll. At that, it wound up canceling Christmas for all but a handful.

Additionally, Bethesda’s efforts are supported by the large food banks like Minnesota Food Share, because the large banks hold a residence criteria: Recipients must live close enough to the foodshelf. Bethesda gives to whoever walks in the door.

“We have people coming from Fridley, Maple Grove. Hennepin County or First Call For Help can tell anyone to come here.”

With jobs being lost left and right, it’s no surprise to hear Sister Booker say, “We’ve had a decrease in food but an increase in people. We have to feed more with less. So, the bags are lighter than we’d like them to be.”

Also on the South Side is Community Emergency Service, where a likeable guy named Jeff Noyed is assistant director. Sitting in his office, Jeff answers my questions in a monotone, head hung, a hand repeatedly washing over his face.

It isn’t that he doesn’t want to be bothered. At roughly four o’clock, we’re closing in on the end of a long day — he really doesn’t have any other kind. He starts around mid-morning, constantly in and out of meetings, keeping appointments with CES clients and fielding impromptu requests for his time and attention. The guy is dog tired by quitting time and always has bags under his eyes big enough to put your laundry in.

“We see a lot of people whether there’s a recession or not,” he begins. “We have seen a 10-percent increase in the number of people, particularly people who have just lost their jobs.

“Our food is down. Last year, we [had] 600,000 pounds. Through this May, we’re in the neighborhood of 15,000 pounds of food less than where we were at this time [last year].”

Things look to get worse between now and the end of summer. “[These] are always the toughest months for us,” Noyed says. “There’s the giving spirit that comes in November and December. Also, tax breaks and so forth. And there is a March food campaign. After the giving season, during summer, a lot of the folks who give are taking vacations.

“So, from April on CES has to coast, drawing on what’s been built up. Accordingly, with donations having fallen off, even in this past giving season, 2009 summer months look to be tougher than ever.”

For foodshelves and those who increasingly depend on them, things do not look good. Not with economy experts predicting that things are going to get much worse before they get any better.

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