March is the month of opportunity for area food shelves. It is the time of year when donations of food and money to a local food shelf can have a greater impact than usual.

A program of the Greater Minnesota Council of Churches, Minnesota FoodShare seeks to fill food shelves all over the state. The organization raises money from state government aid and corporate donations which they then redistribute to food shelves throughout the state.

Each registered food shelf receives a percentage of the total pool of money, depending on how many dollars and pounds of food they themselves raise throughout the month. Locally, the incentive motivates organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts, Masonic Lodges, area churches and others to hold fund and food drives during the month.

According to numbers given by Semcac Community Action Agency, the Fillmore County food shelves in Preston and Rushford saw 1,428 pounds and 2,061 pounds of food donated in March 2013, respectively. Preston also raised $8,352 and Rushford raised $6,657 during the same month. Their efforts earned Preston a $505 check and Rushford received an $819 check from Minnesota FoodShare. All the money was used to purchase more food through Channel One Regional Food Bank in Rochester.

The food and fund drives were able to help 228 households in Rushford and 292 in the Preston area. The Rushford Food Shelf gave out 72,145 pounds of food last year. In donations, Preston saw 23,000 pounds of food and $50,000 come in. Both communities will be the beneficiaries of a forthcoming generous donation by their respective Masonic Lodges and the Minnesota Masonic Charities organization.

A couple years ago, Rushford resident and secretary for the Mystic Star Lodge No. 69, Roger Anderson felt that local food shelves needed more funding. He contacted the Lodges in Fillmore and Houston counties and suggested they do something to raise money.

Anderson also found out that the MMC (Minnesota Masonic Charities) was providing a $2 match for every dollar raised toward a local cause during December, January and February. That meant, essentially, that whatever could be raised locally, would be tripled in value.

With Caledonia and Houston joining, the four Lodges raised approximately $57,000, which was then matched two times by MMC. Through the match, Preston raised around $27,000 and Rushford, almost $12,000. All the money was donated to their respective food shelves.

The fundraiser was not done in 2013, but was back again this year with a dollar-for-dollar match. The fundraiser recently concluded at the end of February. This time, Preston raised $16,264 and Rushford, $9,462. Overall, the four food shelves raised $62,000, which will be matched by MMC.

"The people are really generous," said Anderson. "The food shelf does have more needs, but the people in the community do something about it. We give them the opportunity."

Checks from the Masonic Lodges will be presented to the food shelves later this month. Every dollar will go toward food purchases, which food shelves are able to make more cost-effective than a person going to a grocery store. Anderson said he plans on organizing the fundraiser again next year.

Donations will also come in from Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops. The Preston scouts have already placed bags on the doors of residents and will be back on March 8 to pick up any non-perishable food items placed there.

In Rushford, Boy Scouts will be leaving bags on March 22 and the Girl Scouts will pick them up on March 29.

All the efforts in March are but a highlight of the food drives held by various churches, organizations and businesses throughout the year. The impact of such donations may be even more noticeable for households in need today. The 2014 Farm Bill passed by the federal government on Feb. 7, cut food stamp funding by $8 billion.

Andrea Andresen, Rushford Food Shelf, explained that there hasn't been an overall increase in the number of households requesting food as there has been in the increased frequency of need for those already coming in.

Semcac's Outreach and Emergency Services Director Wendy Todd explained that Semcac staff members have been seeing many individuals lose a significant amount of their food assistance.

According to a fact sheet distributed by Minnesota FoodShare, 554,000 Minnesotans in 2012 received federal food assistance. Semcac helped over 1,460 households in 2013 between Rushford, Preston, Caledonia and Kasson.

Through the efforts of community members, there is a growing trend of generosity set to combat the growing need for food.