The annual March food drive is going on at Princeton Pantry, which gets an extra boost during that period through the donations receiving a partial match from Minnesota FoodShare. The food drive lasts until April 7 to
allow donations to be brought in from churches, schools and other sources.
Princeton Pantry also has some other news of late. It is using a second building, which it rents, to distribute nearly-expired items donated from two local grocery stores – Coborn’s and Walmart.
The food shelf part of the Princeton Pantry is still in the same location at 104 6th Ave. S., next to the city parking lot behind Villa Manor and the K-Bob Cafe. The rented facility for the nearly-expired items is at 507 1st St., which Princeton Pantry personnel are calling its First Street location.
The hours remain the same at both places – 1-3 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, and 9-11 a.m. on Fridays. Anyone is allowed to pick up free, nearly-expired items. By contrast, the food shelf has restrictions including on residency, income and number of times of use per month.
Princeton Pantry’s First Street location, that opened Feb. 8, has “changed the face of the food shelf,” said Princeton Pantry Board director Bob Hasinfelt. It provides the needed room that the food shelf at Sixth Avenue does not have for distributing nearly-expired items.
Hasinfelt talked about how before the First Street location was put into use, people would be crowded “elbow to elbow” in the front entryway at the Sixth Avenue food building to pick up the nearly-expired food.
“There was no organization,” Hasinfelt said.
“I’m surprised we didn’t have to call the police. There was a lot of shoving and pushing. There were words. Some refused to sign a registration sheet when (Princeton Pantry coordinator) Joyce (Neumann) asked them to.”
Neumann agreed that if the atmosphere had gotten “any angrier,” at one point, when people were trying to grab the nearly-expired items, she would have called the police.
As far as the demand at Princeton Pantry, “our numbers are on the rise,” Princeton Pantry director Shirley Hines wrote in a Feb. 13 letter to friends of the pantry. Hines continued that Princeton Pantry served 2,611 families and 9,516 individuals in 2012, of which 3,739 were children. The number of pounds of food given was 282,507.
“The number of new families continues to increase,” Hines added. “Young families especially are having a difficult time because of the high cost of housing, fuel and the expense of repairs on homes and vehicles. When the emergency hits, I am glad the Pantry is there to help these families. Thank you, community for your donations.”
Cash trumps food
While Hines, Neumann and Hasinfelt have expressed gratitude for the food donations, each of them extolled the advantages of giving cash over food. Among the benefits that Minnesota FoodShare lists for giving cash are: It’s easier to write a check than to remember to bring a food item to donate, it’s less labor intensive to bring money, and cash donors can be listed as a tax deduction.
Cash also gives food shelves the flexibility to:
• Purchase certain items they are short of.
• To purchase items as needed, resulting in less need for storage.
• To get more food through the donations because food shelves can use the cash to purchase food at a discount from their food bank. Neumann estimated that a $10 donation could buy about $90 worth of food through Minnesota FoodShare.
Hines notes that donated food can be canned, dried, fresh or frozen but must be processed by a state-inspected business. Princeton Pantry will even take wild game as long as it has been processed. The food shelf also accepts personal hygiene products, including shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, diapers, toilet tissue and laundry detergent.
Hasinfelt said this when asked about donations keeping up with demand at the food shelf: Princeton Pantry has been able to continue providing food for people coming to the facility, but it has to continue receiving donations, therefore the March food drive is important.
Being able to hand out nearly-expired items has taken some pressure off the demand at Princeton Pantry, but the food shelf also has increased costs in having to rent the First Street space, Hasinfelt said. “We’ve taken on a financial commitment for First Street with the rent, insurance and utilities,” he said. “So, if we’re not spending it for food, we’re spending it on facilities.”
Neumann agreed that the large amount of nearly-expired food items to give out now has “definitely helped” in meeting the demand for food assistance. But she also said the demand is “still up there.” She noted that four families came to the food shelf on Feb. 22 who were in there for the second time that month.
If people aren’t able to bring their donations to Princeton Pantry during its open hours, donations can also be brought to Bremer Bank and HyTech Auto, Neumann said. If it is a group that wants to bring in a large amount, they should call ahead at 763-389-4512 so that Princeton Pantry workers can line up volunteers to help receive the donated food.