BY KATHY STEPHAN
Let me introduce you to my friend Charlie. At 75, Charlie falls into the category of a senior food shelf client. He hasn’t been feeling up to par so he visited the VA clinic in Brainerd today. The VA had run out of the prescription he needed so he had to purchase it himself for $55. And, since you can’t drive to Brainerd for free, he estimates another $20 just for gas. That’s $75 of unplanned expenses for Charlie… on a fixed income.
Charlie remembers when he was in his 40’s working full time and looking forward to retirement. He was sold a bill of goods that his Social Security check would be enough to live on comfortably and that Medicare would cover all his medical needs. He knew he’d have to cut corners on his budget but his wife would still be working full time. Well, his wife is no longer in the picture and his check is not enough to cover the basics. He blames it on the cost of living being too high. Charlie said he remembers when planting corn cost $100 an acre and now it costs $800 to plant an acre. He says he’s concerned about how fast the ‘have-nots’ group has been growing. He attributes this to a lack of blue collar jobs in our area. There just isn’t any work around here.
Charlie told me that the last time he went to buy groceries he was in line behind a couple with two kids in tow. Their groceries totaled $249.
“The main thing is you gotta eat,” said Charlie. Meat is especially difficult for him to buy. He told me he didn’t get a deer this year and buying hamburger at steaks’ prices is difficult. Charlie is planting tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and beets so he can preserve something this fall. Charlie tells me that he freezes part of the bread he gets from the food shelf to keep it fresher. He says he eats a lot of benders (sandwiches), and bread in the store- good bread- is at least $3 a loaf. But Charlie’s main concern is for the kids. He worries about if they are getting what they need to survive and thrive. He said that children are our nation’s greatest natural resource.
Did you know that a number of the Pine River Area Food Shelf clients are seniors? Crossing the threshold into our food shelf is hardest on our seniors. Feeding America’s website just released figures relating to senior needs. Fifty percent of seniors will encounter at least a year of poverty between 60-90. Seniors also pay an additional 22 percent of their fixed income for ‘out of pocket’ medical expenses. The average amount allocated to seniors with SNAP (food stamps) is $1.23 per meal. That doesn’t even cover a cup of coffee. Seniors coming into the food shelf who have been forced to choose between medications and food number 30 percent.
The food shelf’s connection with the Pine River-Backus Family Center allows us to enact change and connect people to other resources they may need. The Pine River-Backus Food Shelf has grown to the point where the scales tip and the expenses are greater than the donations. In an effort to conserve and stretch our supplies to feed more, we have streamlined the contents of the boxes. However, our problems don’t stop there. There is no additional space to expand operations to meet the growing needs in our community.
Many people and groups in our community have stepped up to the plate and generously donated both money and goods to us. Personally, I think that charity begins at home. I wish I could show you the real faces of our clientele. Looking into their eyes would help you to understand that the need is very real and immediate. You can make a difference in someone’s life today by contributing to the Pine River Area Food Shelf. For more information on the needs in our community, please contact Leslie Bouchonville on the Family Center programming at 218-587-4292 or Jodi Perry for the Food Shelf at 218-587-2283. Contributions can be sent to PO Box 1, Pine River, 56474, or dropped off at the Pine River-Backus Family Center on Barclay Avenue.
The Pine River Area Food Shelf is open each week, Tuesdays and Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the First Lutheran Church. Share this information with a neighbor in need. It is only because you care that we can make a difference in the lives of our families.
(Kathy Stephan is on the advisory board for the Pine River Area Food Shelf and treasurer of the board of directors for the PR-B Family Center that oversees the agency.)