"The Spring Valley Area Food Shelf supplies supplemental food to those families in need. Need varies by season, illness, joblessness, disabilities, or any number of reasons. None of us can predict the future and our own needs. Our lives can change in a matter of minutes," said Spring Valley Area Food Shelf board member Rita Hartert, highlighting how important the local food shelf can be to those who use it and to those who might someday need to use it.

March is Minnesota FoodShare Month, "the largest food drive in the state," according to the website of Minnesota FoodShare, an advocacy and education group focusing on issues involving hunger. The goal of this special drive is "to restock almost 300 food shelves across Minnesota...it recruits thousands of congregations, companies, schools and community groups to run local fund and food drives to aid in the effort."

Minnesota FoodShare reported that 10.3 percent of Minnesotans live in households that sometimes struggle to get enough food, according to a September 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It also reported that in 2010, Hunger Solutions found that 39 percent of visits to food shelves were for children under 18 and another 9 percent were made by the elderly.

According to U.S Census Bureau figures, 15 percent of Minnesota children, or about 190,000, were living in poverty last year, an increase of about 18,000 from 2009, and Minnesota seniors enrolled in food support at unprecedented numbers in 2010 - 29,586 - an increase of 18 percent over 2009.

Additionally, it's not just families of the unemployed or retired senior adults - increasingly, working families are turning to food shelves for food support.

Hartert noted, "The public campaign brings awareness the needs of others. We truly appreciate efforts made by individuals and organizations to help with this cause."

Spring Valley's food shelf, located on West Tracy Road, has been serving the residents of the area for approximately five years.

"We are currently helping approximately 140 families in the area. This includes those from Spring Valley, Ostrander, Wykoff and surrounding areas. Not everyone comes each month," said Hartert. "The majority of those served are working families with children."

Busy working families with children need a variety of convenient household items, necessities and foods. Hartert explained, "We always have a need for paper products, including toilet paper, Kleenex, and diapers, any brand, any size. There is always a need for any kind of cereal, Hamburger Helper-type foods, Spam, shampoo, and baby foods."

She added that helping hands are as essential to the pantry's operation as Hamburger Helper meals. "We can always use volunteers. Our truck delivers twice monthly, and we can use help unloading it. We especially could use volunteers to donate at least two hours a month when our facilities are open. This means stocking shelves, and assisting clients checking in and out. All workers and board members donate their time - there is no financial incentive to helping with this project. Also, we are proud of the fact that we are able to use the house out on city property. It is close to town, and yet affords privacy."

That request made, she went on to say, "The outpouring of support has been tremendous. Individuals, churches, and organizations from all these communities continuously help and donate. I'm speaking of cash, food contributions, and help. Even the children in the schools get involved, as well as the FFA with their huge garden located right next to the center. Young kids work all summer long. And we're very fortunate in that we receive donated foods year round. We especially appreciate the fresh vegetables that are given to us each summer as gardens are producing, and citizens remember us. Area people are extremely generous!"

Donations to the Spring Valley Area Food Shelf may be delivered to the food shelf site when it is open, Wednesdays from 2 to 5 p.m. or Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon, or to Our Savior's Lutheran Church, 805 S. Broadway, or to Spring Valley's city hall, 201 S. Broadway. Checks may be mailed to Our Savior's Lutheran Church or dropped off at City Hall.

For persons in need of food assistance, applications for food shelf benefits may be downloaded from the city's website at springvalley.govoffice.com or picked up at city hall. Applications should be filled out and brought to the food shelf on the first visit. Proof of eligibility may be necessary. Participants are allowed one visit per month.

The food shelf is located on West Tracy Rd, approximately one-quarter mile west of Kwik Trip, on the north side of the road. Call Spring Valley City Hall at 346-7367 or email any questions to: svfoodshelf@yahoo.com.