Holiday Food Drive - Demand is up in Clayton County

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By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

Thanksgiving and Christmas are just a few weeks away. And while many of us soon will get busy planning holiday dinners, others in our community remain worried about their next meal.

That’s where groups like the Clayton County Food Shelf come in. The Food Shelf, located in St. Olaf, will serve hundreds of families this holiday season. Food Shelf Manager Utoni Ruff expects to see an increase over last year when 215 families were served at Thanksgiving and 273 at Christmas.

“I’m not sure why there’s an increase in the number of families we’re seeing,” she admitted. “I do believe one problem is a decrease in the dollar amount of food stamps given to families and individuals.”

According to an Iowa State University professor who has studied the problem since 2000, at least two other factors come into play: Post-recession wages have not kept up with inflation and as the number of people seeking help has increased, it has become “normalized” or more common and culturally acceptable to get food assistance.

Regardless of reason, the number of families in need is increasing statewide. The Food Bank of Iowa last month reported that the pounds of food it supplies to the poor in the counties it serves has doubled in the last six years. That’s put a significant strain on the agency’s budget. 

Ruff orders some items from the agency that serves this area, the Northeast Iowa Food Bank, but most of her food purchases are made in Clayton County or come from area residents. So while the local need continues to increase, so do local donations.

“We have a wonderful network of generous churches, organizations, businesses and individuals in our county,” Ruff said. That generosity carried Ruff through the holiday season and into the winter, which means she can hold off spending any grant money she receives. The Food Shelf recently was awarded $15,000 by the Upper Mississippi Gaming Corporation (see page 5). 

This year, the Clayton County Register joins the list of organizations that support the Food Shelf. We’re accepting donations of non-perishable food items at our office (205. Main Street, Elkader) during business hours (Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.) When you donate, you’ll also have a chance to enter your name into a drawing for one of two Wilke’s gift cards. Donate and enter as many times as you like! In addition to the food we collect, we’ll give a cash donation to the Food Shelf. Ruff said cash is used to purchase non-food items, which clients cannot buy with food stamps. Those items—toilet tissue, shampoo, toothpaste, soap and so on—can also be left at the Register. 

“When it comes to non-perishable items, our ongoing needs include cereal, canned fruits and fruit juice, peanut butter and tune,” Ruff said. 

Use of the Clayton County Food Shelf requires a referral, which can be provided by a social service agency or a pastor. A client may not use the Food Shelf more than once every 90 days.

“Also, we do have income eligibility guidelines,” Ruff said, “but in the event of a fire flood or tornado, those can be waived.”

For more information on the Clayton County Register Food Drive, call our office at 563-245-1311 or stop by. For more information on the Clayton County Food Bank, call 563-783-7794. Monetary donations to the Food Shelf can be sent to PO Box 48, St. Olaf, IA  52072.


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