"We have 220 families registered at our food shelf, we serve 105 to 115 per month, and we serve from newborns to two 90-plus-year-olds," said Spring Valley Area Food Shelf volunteer Kathy Baarsch, outlining the demographics and numbers of people who patronize the shelf for supplemental food each month.

Those numbers could be growing, since Nov. 1 benefits provided through the national Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps, will decrease, due to federal legislation.

"If SNAP food is decreased, clients will probably be turning to food shelves for extra food. We may see an increase in new applicants also," said Baarsch. "People can come to the food shelf once per month, so it supplements what they purchase."

According to the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) website, SNAP "benefits are changing for two reasons. First...benefits will change due to the costs of living. These changes happen every year. Second, your benefits will change because a law called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) raised SNAP benefits to help people affected by the recession and the part of the law that raised SNAP benefits is ending."

Changes in the cost of living caused some people's benefits to go up on Oct. 1 to adjust for cost of living, but those increases will be offset by the Nov. 1 end of the extra benefits provided through ARRA's SNAP allowances. Since benefits depend "on many things, like income, household size and expenses," the USDA's website states "It is hard to say exactly how your benefits will change...if you live in a household of four and nothing else changes, your benefit would go down $36."

Unfortunately, that $36 can be the deciding factor in a household of four people already living on a small income - forcing a family to decide between buying enough food or putting gas in the tank to get to work. And with Thanksgiving and Christmas approaching, worry about food insecurity might be on their minds as they strive to stretch their dollars further to celebrate as well as they'd like.

The USDA recommended that anyone who needs food immediately should "contact your regional food bank and ask for the nearest food distribution site, or call your state's information line and ask for the nearest food pantry or food distribution site," meaning that with the decrease in SNAP benefits, reliance on local food shelves will grow.

Baarsch related, "People don't really share with us how dependent they are on the food shelf, but at times people come in and sincerely thank us for providing food because they are nearly out. We will provide an emergency box of food once per year if a client requests it, and we might average giving out six to eight per year."

The volunteers who assist families that use the food shelf's services only have the information provided to them by the clients - only how many people are in each household and that there are extenuating circumstances that go unspoken - but they do their best to make a difference for those in need.

"We have no idea if people are employed, but there are approximately 35 family groups which are 65-plus years old," said Baarsch. "We think this is an underserved population - we'd like to see more senior citizens use the food shelf."

She pointed out that the food shelf's volunteers attempt to gather the right ingredients for festive holidays each November and December. "We have been giving a holiday meal provided by the Salvation Army to families with the most children and we plan to continue this in November. We'll look at purchasing more items for traditional holiday meals to have on our shelves, also. If people keep that in mind when donating in the coming weeks, it would be helpful.

"We always need peanut butter, macaroni and cheese, all types of meal mixes, low sodium foods, vegetables, cleaning supplies, shampoo, laundry detergent and toilet paper. We appreciate it when gardeners share their fresh produce - it is best to drop it off during our hours of operation."

Baarsch encouraged friends and neighbors of struggling families and individuals to share information about the food shelf with them. "If you know someone is going through a tough time to make ends meet, whether it is a temporary situation or not, encourage them to stop out and see what the food shelf looks like and talk to one of our volunteers about it. The paperwork is minimal and volunteers will help people with filling it out if needed.

"Another helpful gesture would be to offer a ride to someone who doesn't drive - we have several clients who need a ride. The Semcac bus is also available for $1.50 for anyone needing to go to the food shelf. We have the first Friday of the month from 9 to 10 a.m. designated as a time for senior citizens to 'shop.' It is a less busy time than a typical Saturday, and they can take their time picking out food."

She commended those who have given their time and energy to ensure that everyone has equal access to food and household goods in a dignified setting. "The community has been very generous with monetary and food donations. The city employees plow out the parking lot in the winter, which is a huge help. Once in a while volunteers can't make it in because of a fresh snowfall, but that hasn't happened very much. Some of the local churches have a continual food drive, and their members deliver the donations. A group from Our Savior's Lutheran Church recently did some fall cleaning - trimmed shrubbery, removed weeds and painted the door for us - which was greatly appreciated, too. We have several community members who show up on food delivery day to help unload the truck, also."

The food shelf is still a venture in need of a new place to call home, as the former Kasten farmhouse on Tracy Road is showing wear, even though a furnace was donated to sustain the institution's daily business following spring damage to the house's original furnace.

"We are still in need of a new location," said Baarsch. "The city owns the property and hopes for new housing to be developed on the land in the future. The house needs a new roof, and the structure has other problems, so we know our time there is limited. We are not in a position to own a property, so we would only be interested in renting space."

The Spring Valley Area Food Shelf is open Wednesdays from 2 to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 to 11 p.m. The food shelf is located on West Tracy Road, about a mile out of town. Information and applications for assistance are available at www.springvalley.govoffice.com, or at Spring Valley City Hall, 201 South Broadway.