‘Every little bit helps’

Published 10:41 am Thursday, August 29, 2013

Food shelf at United Methodist Church in Ellendale assists many families

ELLENDALE — What started in this town as a mission of the church has become a community effort.

The food shelf at Ellendale United Methodist Church, 200 Sixth St. in Ellendale, was started in November 2009. Today, it serves 60 to 70 families throughout the year.

The director of the food shelf, Bethany Mikesell, said after a couple of years of getting word out to donors, the program has been successful.

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“Our numbers have grown exponentially,” Mikesell said.

More and more people are learning the food shelf exists, but also needs are growing, Mikesell said.

The base area for the food shelf is Ellendale, Geneva and Hope, and it is starting to expand to Blooming Prairie. There are clients in the Clarks Grove area, too, because for some it is closer to go to Ellendale than to Albert Lea.

The food shelf is open from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. every Thursday unless it lands on a holiday. In that situation, the food shelf is typically open the Tuesday prior. And, if a client cannot make it during the regular time, they can make an appointment for another time by calling 507-688-0518. The number is Mikesell’s home phone number, but she said it is easier for people to call her home than to reach a person at the church.

According to Mikesell, the food shelf allows people in need to visit it each week instead of once a month, like some places.

“We felt it was easier for people to plan better,” Mikesell said. “They can come in, they know what we have a tendency to keep on stock and they are able to budget their funds better.”

Another way the food shelf accommodates clients is to allow them to select the foods they want, as if they were at a grocery store.

“We felt that way it gave them a sense of decision making and responsibility in what they need to eat,” Mikesell said. “And things don’t go to waste as much that way.”

In total, the food shelf has between 35 and 40 volunteers. Weekly, there are between five and 10 people who come in to stock shelves, check expiration dates, coordinate volunteers, order supplies and shop.

“Once we started getting people to volunteer, it was the greatest thing in the world,” Mikesell said. “They get to see it makes a direct impact on somebody else’s life. Some of our volunteers are former clients and they look at this as their way of being able to give back.”

Mikesell, an Ellendale resident, started volunteering as a way to give back to the community.

“I don’t have a lot of extra funds to give, but I can give my service and my time,” Mikesell said.

As the school year is about to start, Mikesell said the number of people in need will increase because they are having to spend extra money on school supplies.

Mikesell said there are several people who donate food and money and area businesses that donate food and goods on a regular basis, but, like with many food shelves, there always is a great need. So far this year she estimates more than 150 people have donated in one way or another.

“The donations are not always large, but we look at it as every little bit helps,” Mikesell said.

The food shelf doesn’t just rely on donors to support the community. She said they coordinate fundraisers, too, especially during statewide fundraising campaigns in March and November.

Mikesell wants to remind donors that food isn’t the only thing needed at the food shelf. Toiletries such as paper towels, toothbrushes, toothpaste and laundry soap are in need.

If a donor makes a monetary donation, the food shelf can make the money go further by purchasing food at a food bank instead of at a grocery store.