Minnesota Foodshare Needs Your Help

It’s March. We're roasting the last of the butternut squash. We're down to the last few tomatoes we canned last summer. The frozen corn and blueberry supplies are dwindling. But our pantry shelves are not the only ones running low.

This March, Minnesota Foodshare is asking area co-op members and shoppers to help restock its food stores. “Generally food shelves get a lot of donations during the holiday season, but by this time of year the stocks are dwindling,” says Joey Robison, Marketing and Member Services Manager at Just Food Co-op. “Unfortunately, the need is still just as great. Donating food during the March Campaign can ensure that no one has to go hungry.” Here’s a list of the top five tips for donating to this year’s Minnesota Foodshare March Campaign.

1. Time is of the essence.
“People who feel a little more challenged to donate money can donate their time,” says Darci Gauthier, Marketing and Member Services Manager at Mississippi Market Co-op. The staff at Mississippi Market has organized a volunteer day at the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center food shelf on March 25, from 9 a.m. to noon. If your co-op doesn't have a similar plan, there are other options. “If your church, scout troop or school group are interested in helping out with MN FoodShare, it’s not too late to plan an event or food drive,” explains Jeanne Lasko, Marketing and Member Services Manager at Linden Hills Co-op and Natural Home. Charli Mills, of Valley Natural Foods suggests, “People can get involved in community or backyard gardening and talk to the local food shelves about donating surplus garden gifts.”

2. Food shelf: a bit of a misnomer.
When times are tough for a family, they need more than just food. “Personal care items like deodorant, shampoo, feminine hygiene products and toothpaste are always welcome,” reminds Lasko. Food shelves also provide families with household necessities such as paper towels, toilet paper and diapers.

3. If you wouldn't eat it, why would anyone else?
Lakso asked her co-op staff what was the most bizarre donation they have ever received. “So far, the big winner is the gigantic jar of mayonnaise that had an expiration date that was ten years old, although the unmarked ZipLoc bag of some white crystalline substance that could have been either sugar or salt is coming in a close second.” This is one competition donors do not want to win. “Don’t clear out your cupboards because chances are the can of yams you haven’t used in two years is not going to help a family in need,” adds Mills.

4. Think outside the milk carton.
Just because someone is using a food shelf doesn't mean that their dietary restrictions suddenly disappear. “We think it is important to make sure that Just Food Co-op's support focuses on the donation of natural foods that meet the dietary requirements of the many people who are gluten-intolerant or celiac,” explains Robison. Food shelves need gluten-free and dairy-free items and milk substitutes such as soy, almond, and rice milk. They also need baby food and other items for children and infants.

5. It's all about the Benjamins.
“Although any and all donations are graciously appreciated,” says Jennifer Luhmann of St Peter Food Co-op and Deli, “money is the best way to contribute as food shelves are able to get a lot more for their dollar through Second Harvest than the general consumer.” She explains that Second Harvest is able to provide $9.00 of food and supplies for only $1.00. “Money also provides food shelves the opportunity to purchase items that they are highly in need of and are perishable, such as meat and produce. And having very little space at their facility, money is also easier to store.” Some of the co-ops connect food shelves with their vendors so that they can get supplies at cost. “Thousand Hills Cattle Company has been amazing – every year donating tons of meat at cost,” says Gauthier, who also points out that food shelves can also get food items that are used by specific immigrant communities, items that donors might not know where to buy. Monetary donations can be made at participating co-ops adding $5, $10 or $20 to the bill or rounding up to the nearest dollar. “That adds up over time,” says Michael Metzger, of Lakewinds Natural Foods. He adds: “The foodshelves are able to get more for their buck than a donor can buy.”

Rhena Tantisunthorn, a native of Washington, DC, grew up knocking back Shirley Temples and cultivating a love of food at the bar rail of her parents' restaurant. She's eaten her way through much of Southeast Asia when she lived in Thailand for three years. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing at Columbia University. She currently lives with her husband and daughter in South Minneapolis where she writes, edits and creates.