Sharon Schmidt, Kathy Baarsch and Ann Oeltjen volunteer at the Spring Valley Area Food Shelf.  The food shelf is hosting a donation challenge during the month of March during which it is asking the community to "Give a Ton" of food.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Sharon Schmidt, Kathy Baarsch and Ann Oeltjen volunteer at the Spring Valley Area Food Shelf. The food shelf is hosting a donation challenge during the month of March during which it is asking the community to "Give a Ton" of food. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Want to stop the growling?

Give a ton.

"The theme we've chosen this year for the Minnesota FoodShare Month campaign is 'Give a Ton'," said Spring Valley Area Food Shelf volunteer Kathy Baarsch, challenging area church members and local residents to do just that - give 2,000 pounds of food - to stop hungry stomachs' growling.

"The Minnesota FoodShare March Campaign raises more than half the food distributed annually at 300 food shelves statewide, and collecting 2,000 pounds would greatly help to refill our shelves," said Baarsch. "Monetary donations go directly to purchase food for the hungry - for this challenge, $1 equals one pound of food."

Better yet, according to the Minnesota FoodShare website, "A grassroots food and fund drive, the Minnesota FoodShare March Campaign is the only statewide effort where every dollar donated goes directly to food shelves to purchase food for the hungry."

People with growling stomachs have surprisingly familiar faces, the website noted, as "more than 554,000 Minnesotans in 2012 received federal food assistance - one out of every 10 people in the state." A third were children. Another quarter was elderly or disabled adults. The total is more than the combined populations of Minneapolis, Rochester and Apple Valley.

The number of Minnesota children eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has increased 150 percent since December 2006, making children the fastest growing population of SNAP participants in the state...out of families with children suffering from food insecurity and hunger in the United States in 2012, 68 percent contained at least one adult working full-time, 10 percent had at least one adult working part-time, seven percent had an unemployed adult actively looking for work, and 7 percent were headed by an adult with a disability.

The recession's effects have been extremely detrimental to families already living with limited food budgets, as reductions were made to SNAP benefits this past November. At that time, Baarsch stated, "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. People can come to the food shelf once per month so it supplements what they purchase."

Statistics cited by the FoodShare site related that since the recession, food stamp use has skyrocketed in suburban and rural counties. As of August 2013, there were as many as 183 percent more people on food stamps in some Minnesota counties.

It added that the annual FoodShare campaign is rather successful in countering hunger. The 2013 Minnesota FoodShare March Campaign raised more than $8.3 million and almost 4 million pounds of food. That is the equivalent of a year's worth of meals for more than 7,700 families of four.

Baarsch invited donations of food and cash to the Spring Valley Area Food Shelf as part of the effort to make the statewide and "Give a Ton" campaigns successful.

"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," she said. "We appreciate it when gardeners share their fresh produce - it is best to drop it off during our hours of operation. And, during March, we will have bags donated by Sunshine Foods, and we're hoping to put bins around town for people to drop off their donations...we'd like people to actually 'give a ton' of food."

The FoodShare campaign is statewide and all food shelf projects in Minnesota benefit from the push during March. Baarsch noted that bins at Alco and Dollar General in Spring Valley help the Wykoff food shelf.

Finally, 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," she explained. "The paperwork is minimal and volunteers will help people with filling it out if needed."

Another helpful gesture, she added, would be to offer a ride to someone who doesn't drive as the local food shelf has several clients who need a ride. The Semcac bus is also available for $1.50 for anyone needing to go to the food shelf. The first Friday of the month from 9 to 10 a.m. is 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, explained Baarsch.

The Spring Valley Area Food Shelf is open Wednesday from 2 to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 9 to 11 a.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's City Hall, 201 South Broadway Avenue, Spring Valley.