By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — ECHO food shelf got a new “hat” Friday.
A pre-cast concrete roof provided the crowning touch to a new addition on the downtown Mankato building, bringing its square footage to 8,700 — a far cry from the 1,600-square-foot building ECHO moved from two years ago.
Board member Richard Chambers said the additional space certainly won’t go for naught because the food needs of those in need show no signs of abating.
“The poverty rate in Blue Earth County has doubled in the past decade. We’d like to be out of business, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon.”
The building’s new addition is a prime example of community business entities working together for a common cause — and an ECHO volunteer who pulled it all together.
Bob Marsh parlayed his 35 years in the local construction trades to request donated materials and services — concrete blocks, electrical work — from several firms. As a result, ECHO’s out-of-pocket costs for the addition have been minimal.
“I just go out and ask them and tell them what I needed, and they said ‘no problem,’” Marsh said.
Added Chambers, “When he gets a ‘no,’ he finds someone else.”
The new space will be used as a food-receiving bay and for refrigeration and storage. The effort follows ECHO’s major fund drive two years ago that raised more than $600,000.
ECHO (Emergency Community Help Organization) has food-donation arrangements with virtually every grocery vendor in town — from supermarkets to convenience stores.
Those vendors’ overstock inventory — perishable and non-perishable food destined for disposal but fully usable — largely comprises the million-plus pounds of food ECHO distributes each year.
Chambers said the Mankato Farmers’ Market has been another big contributor, this year donating a record 10,000 pounds of produce.
Last year ECHO served more than 46,000 people in Blue Earth County and North Mankato. This September 1,150 households were served, Chambers said.
“And we’re gaining 100 clients a month.”
ECHO began in a church basement in 1981 and was intended for short-term food assistance for people in the Mankato area. It has relocated several times to larger facilities to accommodate the growing need for food assistance.
In May 2010, ECHO became a client-choice food shelf, allowing people to choose their own grocery items instead of receiving standard food packages.