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County, churches back St. Charles food shelf (06/04/2014)
By Chris Rogers

     Photo by Chris Rogers

. Employees Jeanette Schafer (left) and Pat Schlichenmeyer (right) helped the St. Charles food shelf deliver 13,000 pounds last month, even as the organization struggled financially. As of this month, Winona County will help finance the organization.

This year Francis Passe had to choose between drawing a paycheck and keeping families and seniors fed. The administrator of the St. Charles food shelf struggled as the organization's funds dwindled, then dipped into the red in recent months. "When the food shelf ran out of money, there was just no way I could close the doors. We need to stay open," she said. She said she has not drawn a salary yet this year. "For me it was more important to keep the food shelf going," she said.

Passe is not the only one who has worked for nothing. Numerous volunteers help stock the shelves. Mostly of them are retirees, including a 93-year-old regular. One of them is a former customer who went on to a get a degree and a good job. A few workers are paid minimum wage. They earn it. Even as it struggled financially, the organization distributed 13,000 pounds of food last month, and, Passe pointed out, "those 13,000 pounds were all lifted by us, at least twice." Last year, in total, it distributed 163,800 pounds and served 4,791 regular customers.

Despite the financial woes, support for the food shelf has amazed Passe. All of the local churches banded together to host a fundraiser for the food shelf. "I don't believe I've ever seen all the churches working together," Passe said. "You didn't know who was Lutheran and who was Catholic. It was just a delight to be in that building," she said of the event.

Now, Winona County will provide regular support for the food shelf, as well. After commissioner Steve Jacob raised the issue last month, the County Board unanimously supported a contract to pay the food shelf $600 per month for the services it provides. The county has similar contracts with Winona Volunteer Services and other community aid organizations.

Asked in an interview what the contribution will mean for the food shelf, Passe swallowed and said, "Well, it means we're going to stay open." Her relief was palatable. St. Charles has been very supportive, "but there comes a time where you can only ask so many times," explained one of the food shelf's board members at a County Board meeting last month.

Passe explained to the County Board that while Olmsted County food shelves closed their doors to non-county residents, the St. Charles food shelf continued to accept all who came, including numerous residents from Elba, Altura, and Freemont. Some of the customers carry their food away in red wagons or on bicycles; they would never be able to make it to Winona's food shelf, Passe said.

"They are a lot of people here who are very glad we're here because they have no where else to go," commented St. Charles food shelf employee Jeanette Schafer.

Seniors hit by unforeseen increases in gas prices, taxes, and other expenses make up much of the organizations clientele, Passe said, and "for the size of St. Charles, we have people who are homeless, who have no where to go."

The St. Charles food shelf is officially known as the Southeast Minnesota Rural Education and Resource Center and provides services ranging from help with job applications and power shut-offs to free backpacks of food for children on weekends. Its 106 East 11th Street storefront is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. More information, including information on donating or volunteering is available by calling 507-932-5203. 


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