Chippewa County Food Shelf food distribution event

Danae Milbrandt
Vehicles were lined up two by two at the Fairgrounds last Thursday for Prairie Five's food distribution event. At one point, the line stretched out of the  fairgrounds and onto the street that runs behind Southtown Plaza. Anyone who was in need of food was able to pick up three boxes of food free of charge.

There has always been a need for food assistance from the food shelf, but with the economic issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals and families are in need of its services now more than ever.

On Thursday, June 26 the Chippewa County Food Shelf held a food drive at the Chippewa County Fairgrounds for anyone in need of food supplies. Families who arrived received three boxes of food, one containing frozen chicken and pork, one containing mixed produce, and one containing dairy products.

According to Prairie Five Outreach and Aging Adult Services Program Director Angela Nissen, the food shelf served a total of 728 households that day, or approximately 2,300 people.

“The food was donated by Second Harvest Heartland, they were the ones that were in charge of the distribution,” said Nissen. “They provided the food as part of their COVID-19 relief fund. They transported it out here in temperature-controlled semis and paid for all the transportation and products as part of that COVID food assistance. We just had to supply the location and the volunteers to run it, as well as the publicity and promotion.”

Second Harvest Heartland has partnered with the food shelf in the past to provide food at a discounted price for those in need. The food shelf purchases food from Second Harvest Heartland with the monetary donations they receive throughout the year.

Chippewa County is not the only area that has seen an increased need for food shelf services.

“Second Harvest Heartland picked out 50 counties and food shelves that had the greatest need, and held 50 food drives in the month of June. Fifty different counties received this distribution,” Nissen explained.

Prairie Five has food shelves in the areas they serve, and has been holding drives in the meantime in an effort to battle the increasing need it has seen within its communities.

“We’ve done Chippewa County, Big Stone County and Swift County in a 10-day period,” Nissen said.

At last Thursday’s food drive, Second Harvest and the Chippewa County Food Shelf distributed about 44,000 lbs. of food to those in need, with the help of approximately 45 volunteers.

“The volunteers were so amazing in the heat they had to work in, and the fair board was so accommodating,” said Nissen. “They had a nice building that was air conditioned with some chairs and tables and water set up in there so we could get out of the sun and cool down a little bit. It was a wonderful, wonderful day.”

Nissen stated that they are planning on holding another drive sometime in August, but there is no set date for it yet.

“I would also like to highlight that our food shelf is still open, and that anyone who needs emergency services can call (320) 226-8775. The number of individuals seeking our services has gone down because I don’t think they’re calling the number, but they can set up an appointment and we will get them food. We don’t want anyone to go without food,” Nissen said.

She added that those interested in volunteering for the upcoming food drive can call the emergency food line, and the call will go directly to her. She also noted that the abundance of people that arrived for the drive on Thursday shows that there are many people that are in need, but don’t reach out for help.

“They probably need it and are just too proud to come to the food shelf, but when it’s open-ended like this and it’s something that’s open to everybody, you can see how many families are living on that edge of ‘we might be okay, we might not.’

“I think the number of people that came shows that many people are close to that edge, so it’s wonderful we could do this for them. They may not qualify for this or they may not qualify for that, but they’re in need and they have kids or parents or family members, and they have a need for these services.”

At the end of the drive, Nissen said, there were leftover boxes that they didn’t want to go to waste.

“What we didn’t serve would have been taken back to the Twin Cities, and we didn’t want that. We wanted to make sure that we got the food to everyone we could, so we had our Prairie Five Childcare Department load up some of the leftover product and distribute it to all the daycares. We also wanted to make sure we got it to the apartment buildings, so we had some of the apartment caretakers come and get food as well.”

The need for food in Minnesota is expected to continue to grow through the fall. According to a report compiled by Second Harvest Heartland and McKinsey & Company, Minnesota will see a significant surge in demand for food services this fall that will affect over 700,000 Min­nesotans, a situation not seen since the Great Depression. The report states that Minnesota is projected to have the second-highest percentage increase in food insecurity in the nation this year; a 60 percent increase from 2018 to 2020.

All in all, last Thursday’s food drive was a great success, thanks to Second Harvest Heartland and all the volunteers who helped. “It was simply a great day,” Nissen said.