NACE Empty Bowls fund-raiser on March 15

by Eric Hagen
Staff Writer

The North Anoka County Emergency (NACE) Food Shelf is putting on the eighth annual Empty Bowls fund-raiser in a couple of weeks in order to keep up with the increasing need for assistance in the area.

Volunteers Marge Raze (foreground) of Oak Grove and Gerri Torgersen (background) of East Bethel work on sorting items at the Clothing Closet. Photo by Eric Hagen

The Empty Bowls event is from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 15 at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, 19921 Nightingale St. N.W., Oak Grove. The event is sponsored by Lions and Lioness clubs from Cedar-East Bethel, Ham Lake, Oak Grove and St. Francis.

Different soups, chili, breads, homemade bars and soft serve ice cream will be provided to people who give a free will donation. People are also welcome to bring a non-perishable food donation to the event.

For every $1 donated, NACE can purchase the equivalent of 3.5 meals, according to NACE Director Joanne Yackel. The discounted food is purchased through the Second Harvest Heartland food bank.

NACE needs to stretch donors’ dollars as much as possible because more people are needing assistance in this tough economy, Yackel said.

According to Yackel, NACE distributed 269,000 pounds of food in 2011. This compares with 200,078 pounds in 2010, 169,786 pounds in 2009 and 115,755 pounds in 2008.

Yackel said that 2012 has started out busier than the beginning of 2011. Donations typically decrease after the holiday season, which is why March is such a perfect month for the annual Minnesota FoodShare drive, she said. Although food shelves accept and need donations through the year, March has been an emphasized marketing month.

NACE is now getting more fresh produce and baked goods than before, according to Yackel. This past fall, NACE began partnering with the Blaine Super Target at the corner of Highway 65 and 109th Avenue in Blaine. Every Sunday, volunteers drive to Blaine to pick up the donated goods and deliver them to NACE’s East Bethel location.

According to Yackel, Soderquist’s Market in Ham Lake donates mostly breads, but other grocery items as well every Wednesday. St. Francis Foods donates as often as it can.

Lindsi Gish, associate director of communications at Second Harvest Heartland, said these types of partnerships have been around for decades, but the concept has really taken off in the last five years. Second Harvest refers to it as the food rescue program.

A bruised piece of fruit or baked goods or meat approaching the sale date expiration that a grocery store may have thrown out are the types of food that can benefit food shelves and the people they help, Gish said.

Last year, 18 million pounds of food was distributed to Minnesota food shelves through the Food Share program, according to Gish.

Gish knows that people appreciate the healthier options. Recently, she heard from a man who appreciated being able to receive lettuce and fruit from his local food shelf because he was having trouble stomaching more macaroni and cheese and canned goods.

Expansion and ownership

In the fall of 2011, the NACE Board of Directors signed off on the purchase of two office units, which included the unit it had been leasing since August 2009 and an adjacent unit that became available.

At the same time, however, NACE closed the Linwood Township food shelf location that it began operating in June 2010 in order to operate more efficiently.

NACE was officially in East Bethel only starting Jan. 16. The front reception area was renovated and a desk was added for gathering client information. The old space still has the shelves for food although they were rearranged to improve clients and volunteers move through the area.

The space where the Clothing Closet used to be is now partially occupied by a meeting space.

Yackel said a few groups come by NACE from time to time to share information with clients.

Anoka County’s supplemental nutritional assistance program (SNAP) assists low-income families with buying food and meeting their nutritional needs. Simply Good Eating is a University of Minnesota Extension Program that offers healthy recipe tips. These are a couple of examples of groups with whom NACE has partnered with in the past, but now can offer a regular space for them to meet with clients.

The Clothing Closet is in the new space next door. The new area is bigger than the old one and is easier to move around. The new unit also houses the warehouse where delivered boxes and cans of food are placed until they are needed in the main food distribution area. The warehouse area has access to a service door that trucks can pull up to when delivering goods.

Hours, volunteering

Hours at the NACE location at 18511 Highway 65 N.E. in East Bethel are 9 a.m. to noon on Mondays, 5 to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, 1 to 4:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and 8 to 11 a.m. on Thursdays.

Yackel said more volunteers are needed to pick up food from the Blaine Super Target between 8 and 11 a.m. on Sunday mornings.

If you are interested in volunteering for NACE, call 763-434-7685.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]