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Helping the Hungry
WSP Girl Scout troop is racking up the pounds - in food shelf donations
Could you donate your weight in food to a food shelf?
That’s what 19 Girl Scouts are trying to do.
During the month of March, Minnesota FoodShare leads a statewide campaign to collect food shelf donations. To help stock the shelves, 19 Scouts are trying to collect their weight in food.
Through their “Worth our Weight in Food” campaign, Girl Scout Troop No. 55960 members are trying to collect 1,000 pounds of food for the Neighbors, Inc. food shelf in West St. Paul. Halfway through the month, the girls, who are in first, second and third grades, are more than halfway to their goal.
On Sunday, March 16, the girls delivered over 600 pounds of food to the shelf, which gives away food and basic necessities to people in need.
The Girl Scout troop is made up of girls from Community of Saints Regional Catholic School, an assembly of former schools affiliated with the St. Michael, St. Matthew and St. John Vianney parishes in South St. Paul and West St. Paul. The girls started collecting food at the beginning of March. Much of the food they bring in comes from the churches that support them, but troop leader Deb Gutzman says some of the Scouts purchased food themselves.
In addition to the food they collect, the Girl Scouts will also be donating 150 boxes of Girl Scout cookies to the Neighbors food shelf.
The Girl Scouts’ donations are worth more than their weight. Portions of the donations that come into the food shelf during the Minnesota FoodShare March campaign are matched by corporations and foundations.
The Girl Scouts aren’t the only ones taking up the charge. The city of South St. Paul is leading a “Let’s Pack the Shelves South St. Paul” food drive to collect 30,000 pounds of food for Neighbors.
Collection bins are located throughout the city, including City Hall, Central Square Community Center, South St. Paul Library and Knowlan’s supermarket.
Serving and learning
The Girl Scouts delivered their first batch of food at Neighbors’ first “Get to Know Your Neighbors” event, where they and other attendees toured the food shelf and learned more about the nonprofit agency. The girls also got to sort the food they brought in, which Gutzman says they were very excited about. “It was a really good learning experience for them.”
The girls say that they learned a lot about what the food shelf does and how it helps people.
“I learned that the food shelf takes more than just food. They also take clothes and toys,” Ava, 8, says.
“I learned that we help people there,” Grace, 6, adds.
This is one of many service projects the troop has undertaken in the community. They’ve also sung Christmas carols at a nursing home and made Valentine’s Day cards for adults with developmental disabilities.
“I’m a big believer in service projects,” Gutzman explains. She tries to bring the girls to a variety of activities. “If you try different things, you’ll find one that fits your personality,” she says.
A community effort
David Miller, the director of volunteer programs at Neighbors, says the Girl Scouts helping out sets a great example for the community.
“It speaks to a sense of everyone -- including children or students -- to give back and help their neighbors in need,” he says. “Half the people we serve in the food shelf are kids who are coming with their families,” Miller says. “In this case, it’s kids helping kids.”
The Neighbors food shelf relies on its volunteers. Over 1,400 volunteers serve the food shelf every year. “We wouldn’t exist without volunteer support,” Miller says. “That’s why it’s so important for the Girl Scouts to have been involved this weekend.”
With donations from local schools, churches, businesses and families, The Neighbors food shelf brings in nearly 50,000 pounds of food per month and serves over 500 families.
“Neighbors is a unique food shelf in the sense that we get most of our donations from the community,” Miller says. He adds that Neighbors keeps all the food in the community, so it really is neighbors helping neighbors.
Neighbors helps bridge the gap between what the community has and what the community needs in challenging economic times.
“We hear in the news that the recession is over, but here at our food shelf the need has actually increased,” Miller says. The number of families Neighbors served so far in 2014 is up 25 percent over 2013.
Donations help the agency keep pace with the growing need. Last year the Minnesota FoodShare March drive brought in almost 100,000 pounds of food to Neighbors. The organization hopes to beat that goal this year.
While March is an important month for food drives, Miller says he hopes residents and businesses give throughout the year. The food that Neighbors receives during March only lasts until about May. The demand increases during the summer months when kids are out of school and people are on vacation and not thinking about donating to the food shelf.
Items that are especially in demand include pancake mix, syrup, rice, pasta, tuna and other canned meats. The food shelf also needs hygiene items such as toilet paper, toothpaste and shampoo.
Neighbors also accepts monetary donations.
For more information about Neighbors, visit neighborsmn.org. For more about Minnesota FoodShare, visit mnfoodshare.gmcc.org.
Kaylin Creason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 651-748-7825.