Small-town foods

Marge Pribyl of Elysian helped organize the Waterville-Elysian food shelf in the 1980s. A retired kindergarten teacher, she says getting people to donate time and food at the small-town operation has not been a problem.

Marge Pribyl of Elysian, Mary Smalley in Wells and Dottie Spencer of Madelia do not know one another.

But their volunteer stories are strikingly similar. These three women, all in their 70s, helped organize local food shelves in their communities in the 1980s.

And for more than 20 years, each of them has coordinated their home town’s food shelf program with one goal in mind: to make sure no one goes hungry.

“You don’t need to be recognized for volunteering,” said 77-year-old Pribyl. “That’s what we are here for.”

Taking care of their own

Shortly after she retired from teaching kindergarten, Pribyl helped organize the W-E Share Food Shelf after the Elysian city clerk received a phone call from the New Prague food shelf telling her “you have to take care of your own people.”

At that time the New Prague food shelf was the closest to Elysian. Later Montgomery and Le Center opened food shelves.

Some of the local churches donated money to start the Elysian food shelf, Pribyl said.

“It’s mushroomed from there.”

The goal of food shelves is to provide people and families in need with the food they require to get through tough times. Pribyl said that while other food shelves have trouble getting food or volunteers, she has never had that problem.

She relies on churches, individuals, the schools, Boy Scouts, companies and organizations for donations of food and money.

W-E Share, which serves Waterville and Elysian, is open from 9 a.m. until noon the first three Wednesdays and Fridays of the month in the old creamery building on Main Street.

People needing food are referred by social services, churches and schools and are required to fill out an eligibility report.

They can get enough food for four to five days once a month, Pribyl said. But, she said, “We wouldn’t turn anyone away. Ever.”

The church closet

The Wells Area Food Shelf operates out of a closet in Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. It’s a large walk-in closet, but still not enough room to allow the food shelf to expand from an emergency food shelf to a sustaining level, said Mary Smalley, president.

The food shelf, which serves the greater Wells area including Minnesota Lake, Bricelyn and Kiester, was started by the United Methodist Church in 1983. Smalley was there at the start and has been a volunteer ever since.

“Knowing that people are being helped and that they are appreciative,” is the satisfaction she receives in return, Smalley said. As an emergency food shelf, people in need can receive a five-day food supply only twice a year. But, Smalley said, the demand to provide more help is there and has been growing over the years.

“The working poor are the ones going to the food shelves,” Smalley said. “The majority are employed, but you can’t raise a family on minimum wage.”

In response to the demand, the food shelf is trying to secure a larger site where it would be able to provide food once a month to individuals and families who qualify.

The Wells Food Shelf recently asked the City Council to approve the use of a room in the community center to house the program. In addition to space, Smalley said the food shelf could also use more volunteers.

Volunteers answer the food shelf phone (507-553-3053) from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. Most people can receive food the same day they call, Smalley said.

“That’s the important thing, that they make the phone call,” she said. The Wells Food Shelf helps about 17 families a month. Two of the largest donations of food are from the Boy Scout drive in March and the Postal Service collection in May, Smalley said.

Madelia’s demand drops

Unlike other food shelves, the Madelia Food Shelf has seen a decrease in the number of people served. Dottie Spencer, coordinator, said that the food shelf served 900 individuals in 1990. Last year it donated food to almost 200 people.

But she attributed that to the local food-processing plant in Madelia. In 1990 the plant hired mostly single people who were not permanent residents. Today most of the workers are full-time residents with families in Madelia. In Madelia, all of the people needing emergency food need to be referred by either clergy, Home Health Care or the county’s Human Services.

“We don’t think it’s up to us to decide who needs food,” Spencer said. “And they shouldn’t have to tell us.”

Because of the referral system, the Madelia Food Shelf, which is in a downtown storefront donated by the owner, does not have regular hours. Instead one of the 16 volunteers meets the client at the food shelf when they receive a phone call.

Spencer said quite a few of the volunteers have been there since the food shelf was started in 1983 through the ministerial association.

“They are a very caring group,” she said.

Clients receive a four-day supply of food at each visit and are asked not to come more often than every three months, Spencer said.

Minnesota has 300 food shelves — run by churches, community centers and other nonprofit agencies — providing food and personal care items free to people in need.

Last year more than 36 million pounds of food were distributed to 1.7 million individuals or families. Half of those receiving food are children, 49 percent working families and 19 percent senior citizens, according to Hunger Solutions Minnesota, a statewide partnership of organizations fighting hunger. One in 22 people in Minnesota uses a food shelf.

Boy Scouts good resource for shelves

The annual Scouting for Food drive by the Boy Scouts will collect donations for local food shelves next week.

Empty yellow bags with instructions were distributed to area homes Saturday, March 10, asking people to donate non-perishable food items. The filled bags will be collected Saturday, starting at 9 a.m.

Scouting for Food, a nationwide community service project of the Boy Scouts, started in 1988. The Scouts have collected millions of pounds of food nationwide to replenish food shelves.

The participation rate is about 80 percent of all the boys involved in Scouting, according to Bryan Knoblich, field director of the Twin Valley Council, which covers Mankato and south-central Minnesota.

“That in itself is a success,” Knoblich said.

Last year the Scouts in the Twin Valley Council donated 50,000 pounds of food to area food shelves. Of that, 15,000 pounds were collected in Mankato.

“This is a great opportunity to teach Scouts about the needy in our community,” Knoblich said. “Hats off to all of them.”

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