Monticello Help Center needs help with annual food shelf challenge

The Monticello Help Center, along with about 140 other food shelves statewide, is asking for help in July to raise funds to fill its shelves. The seventh annual Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless Food Shelf Challenge is designed to provide proportional matching donations to food shelves that raise money during the month of July.              (File Photo by Tim Hennagir)
The Monticello Help Center, along with about 140 other food shelves statewide, is asking for help in July to raise funds to fill its shelves. The seventh annual Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless Food Shelf Challenge is designed to provide proportional matching donations to food shelves that raise money during the month of July. (File Photo by Tim Hennagir)

With school being out of session for a little over a month, many families with young kids are feeling the effects, particularly on their grocery bill.

But for many families in Monticello, those extra meals are taking more than just a tiny bite out of the family budget.

“We tend to get a lot more people coming (to the food shelf) in the summer, especially with having the kids at home,” said Sandy McClurg, Monticello Help Center’s executive director.

But McClurg said donations to the food shelf during the summer months are typically low.

“It’s Minnesota,” she said. “We live in a state where people tend to go away to the cabin or on vacation during the summer. So all the food shelves in Minnesota see a decrease in supplies.”

That is why the Monticello Help Center along with about 140 other food shelves statewide are asking for help in July to raise funds to fill the shelves.

The seventh annual Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless Food Shelf Challenge is designed to provide proportional matching donations to food shelves that raise money during the month of July.

“A lot of the fundraising (for food shelves) are given during the holidays,” said Abbie Tisch, Minnesota food helpline associate with Hunger Solutions. “And this program gives awareness to the needs during the summer.”

Hunger Solutions is the administrative body for the Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless funding.

During the month of July, food shelves keep a tally of how much money they raise. At the end of the month, participating food shelves report their fundraising efforts to Hunger Solutions. A proportional match up to $5,000 is distributed to those food shelves. The more a food shelf raises, the more money it is eligible to receive.

“It’s a great partnership,” Tisch said. “This really helps with the fundraising effort.”

Last year, McClurg said the Monticello Help Center raised $12,000 during the Open Your Heart food shelf challenge. That corresponded to about $1,600 from the proportional grant.

This year, McClurg is hoping to raise $14,000.

The money generated from the July push goes to purchase food for the food shelf and to help fund the Help Center’s Kids Kitchen summer program – a program in which kids can come to the food shelf every Monday and receive a weeks’ worth of food.

“We serve about 250 kids each week with Kids Kitchen,” McClurg said. “So that’s a lot of food we are going through.”

That number is in addition to the 240 families the food shelf feeds every month year-round. It is a number McClurg has seen triple in the seven years she has been with the Monticello Help Center.

“The big increase happened in ’08, ’09 and 2010 when we were in the middle of the recession,” she said. “But we never saw our numbers drop back down. They have just leveled off and continue to hold steady.”

Even more reason Tisch said the summer food shelf challenge is so important.

“The need is definitely out there,” she said. “Families are struggling. Donations really make a difference, especially when there is an opportunity to help maximize your dollars.”

Funds can be donated to the Monticello Help Center in three ways. Checks can be mailed to P.O. Box 1220, Monticello, MN 55362, cash or checks can be accepted in person at the Help Center, 215 Cedar St. or donations can be made online at www.monticellohelpcenter.org.

“The thing about this that we would like to stress is that people who are using the food shelf are the people living next to you,” McClurg said. “They could be your kids’ friends that just need the extra help. It’s all about being able to fill that gap for them.”

Vicki Ikeogu is a freelance feature and business writer for the Monticello Times.