by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Multi-colored lights are gleaming on homes and decorations from snowmen to presents wrapped up in bows are adorning local businesses. The holidays have arrived, and in Winona, the season is celebrated with the annual 10 Days of Giving food drive.
The drive, which is a collaboration between Winona Volunteer Services (WVS) and Merchants Bank that gives residents an opportunity to donate non-perishable food items or money to assist WVS’ food-shelf programs, runs from December 1 through December 10. This year marks the 31st year of the drive. A series of activities including a fish-fry dinner and a holiday lighted parade are also held as part of the drive.
Over 3.5-million pounds of food have been collected during the 30-year history of 10 Days of Giving.
“We are honored to coordinate this campaign and are so grateful to the Winona community for their generosity. It is so inspiring to see the involvement from schools and local businesses, as well as all of our community members,” said Merchants Bank Winona and Southern Regions President Andrew Guzzo. This year, the drive was kicked off with a $10,000 donation from Steve Craney in memory of his late wife, Gina Craney.
In 2018, an average of 751 households utilized the food shelf each month, and WVS distributed 499,272 pounds of food.
WVS Executive Director Sandra Burke said the food that is collected this year will be sorted and put on the shelves on December 11 and 12. Monetary donations will be used throughout 2020 to purchase food for the food shelf. The drive raises the community’s awareness about the food-shelf programs at WVS, Burke shared.
Burke explained that WVS aims to provide food items that people can take home and prepare themselves. With the help of a nutrition educator at WVS, staff can identify people’s particular cooking needs, such as the foods they are used to preparing and any training that may be helpful, Burke stated.
Guzzo said the bank collaborates with WVS on the drive because of its belief in the concept of service. He said the bank recognizes that some in the community need help and wishes to assist them.
Burke shared that WVS can assist with connecting those who take part in the food shelf programs to additional community resources, like help with budgeting or creating meals with produce, among other skill sets.
The drive is one of several WVS events that happen throughout the year, Burke explained. The FoodShare Campaign takes place in March, the National Letter Carrier Food Drive occurs in May and the Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless Challenge takes place in July.
Winona Mayor Mark Peterson stated that he feels the drive is important and believes it is valuable to continue supporting WVS events throughout the year.
Burke said the food shelf programs benefit those living on a fixed income, such as Social Security, and those who face an unexpected financial situation, such as an unforeseen medical expense.
Burke said WVS can stretch monetary donations when buying food for the programs. She noted that as of the end of October, about $105,000 had been spent by WVS on food this year, and that translated to around 400,000 pounds of food.
“We value and appreciate any donation, but as a food shelf, our monetary dollars go farther at the grocery store than an individual’s,” Burke said. “What that means is, WVS can purchase $50 worth of food for just $15.”
Food rescue, or recovering edible food that would otherwise go to waste from locations such as restaurants and food markets, takes place locally as well through partnerships with stores including Hy-Vee, Midtown Foods, Target, and Walmart, Burke explained.
For those who wish to donate non-perishable food items, Burke said soups, canned stews, cereals, canned meats, chunky peanut butter, and pasta are good choices. She added that low-sodium products, products that come in cans that do not require a can opener to be opened, and products that do not come in glass jars would be highly appreciated.
Toilet paper, paper towels and tissues are also appreciated, Burke added.
Activities taking place as part of the drive include a fish-fry dinner at the Winona Eagles Club from 4:30 to 7 p.m. on December 6 ; the Holiday Lighted Parade on Sixth Street in Goodview starting at 5:30 p.m. on December 7; apps and taps at Port 507 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with doors opening at 10 a.m. on December 8; a holiday concert at the Winona State University Performing Arts Center at 2 p.m. on December 8; the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train at the Winona Amtrak Station beginning at 3:30 p.m. on December 9; and a Culver’s of Winona Day on December 9.
Fish-fry tickets are $11. Gifts of non-perishable food items or monetary donations are requested for the Holiday Lighted Parade, and donations may be dropped off at Merchants Bank-Goodview and the Elks Lodge during the event. A gift of non-perishable food items or a monetary donation is the admission price for the apps and taps event and holiday concert. Gifts of non-perishable food items or monetary donations are requested for the Holiday Train event. One free single scoop of custard may be enjoyed at Culver’s in Winona if three non-perishable food items are brought to the establishment between December 1 and 10, and 10 percent of all sales on December 9 will be donated.
Monetary donations or non-perishable food items may be dropped off at participating schools or businesses or any Merchants Bank lobby. Monetary donations may also be mailed to Merchants Bank, 102 East Third Street, and should be made out to “10 Days of Giving.” Donations may be made online as well at the WVS site, www.winonavs.org. “10 Days of Giving” should be indicated after entering one’s name.
Winona Volunteer Services, its food shelf programs and its other services are located at 402 East Second Street.