Demand up at food shelf

FAIRMONT – Entering its third year of distributing food to needy people, Heaven’s Table Food Shelf in Fairmont is experiencing some growing pains as demand for aid increases.

The food shelf, at 909 Winnebago Ave., is open 5-7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 9-11 a.m. Saturdays. From 12 to 20 families usually visit during each opening.

“On June 26, we set the record; we had 39 households that night,” said Pauline Bergt, who serves on the Heaven’s Table board of directors with her husband, Gerald.

Twice-monthly truck delivery will increase to three times per month beginning in August. The extra food creates a “Catch-22,” with the additional supplies requiring additional cooler and freezer space. This, in turn, increases utility costs.

Heaven’s Table is located in the former Kahler Automation building. The company paid the utilities during the food shelf’s first year of operation. Now, Heaven’s Table will have to pay its own.

“Our rent/utility bill will be double this year,” said board member Greta Lintelman said. “It will take $12,000 to $16,000 to run the building.”

Heaven’s Table benefits from various fundraisers, such as the Kiwanis pancake dinner, as well as donations from businesses and manufacturers.

“All our contributions stay local,” Lintelman said.

So it was a bit surprising when an Armstrong man and his daughter volunteered to help.

“It started out with me and my daughter wanting to donate our time,” said Joe Waller, an employee at GKN in Armstrong, a business that has donated goods and funds to the food shelf.

Waller credits social media with bringing the work of Heaven’s Table to his attention.

He and his daughter, 11-year-old Madison, volunteered at the food shelf, but they’re taking their selflessness one additional step. On Tuesday, the two will be going door to door to Fairmont businesses to get as many donations as possible.

Waller called the work of the food shelf “an awesome thing,” and he is glad to be able to help out.

Heaven’s Table can always use volunteers, especially unpacking and sorting on delivery days. About 2,700 hours were logged by volunteers during the first year. The only paid position is a part-time assistant-to-the-board who coordinates volunteers. Her wages are paid through Minnesota Valley Action Council.

Donations of food are gratefully accepted, but cash contributions are key.

“Cash gives us a lot more flexibility,” Lintelman said. “It doesn’t get old. It doesn’t get outdated. It doesn’t get moldy. It enables us to buy what we need.”

The food shelf works with the largest hunger-relief organization in the upper Midwest, Second Harvest Heartland, which stores and distributes millions of pounds of food and grocery donations from across the country.

Lintelman said purchasing through Second Harvest allows the local food shelf to stretch its dollars about five times further than buying at a grocery store.

Visitors at Heaven’s Table are required to fill out an application once per year. Once the application is complete, each person in the family is allowed 7 pounds of food per visit. The number of visits and the amount of meat per family is regulated.

Heaven’s Table also features “bonus” food – bulk items it has received that are not included in the 7-pound limit.

Anyone dropping off donations should be at the food shelf 30 minutes prior to its opening.

More information about Heaven’s Table can be obtained by calling (507) 238-5424 or by emailing heavenstable@gmail.com