For most of her life, the Salvation Army in Brainerd has held a powerful role in Bea Bjorklund's life.
The Brainerd woman has volunteered and served in many facets of the Salvation Army since 1934, but those who use the Salvation Army food shelf may recognize the soft-spoken woman with the heartfelt smile.
For many years, Bjorklund single-handedly ran the food shelf, preparing boxes of food for families and individuals who needed it to get by that month. She volunteered despite the fact she was going blind, until she underwent corneal transplants in both eyes in 1990 and 1995.
Bjorklund's eyesight remains poor, and two years ago she cut back her work at the food shelf to one day a week, but the 79-year-old woman said she will continue to volunteer there to help others as long as she can.
"I think the Lord has just let me," said Bjorklund. "It's just a part of my life. It's not as easy as it used to be but people are very understanding. I think it builds me spiritually. I think people encourage me as much as I might encourage them."
Bjorklund said she has memorized where many items are on the shelves. She said she looks forward to seeing the people who come in for the extra food to get by that month.
"It's very rewarding," she said. "If you can make a difference for one person, that's doing something."
At Christmas time one year, a woman came up to Bjorklund and gave her a gift. Although Bjorklund didn't recognize the woman, she obviously had made an impact in the woman's life.
"I cried," said Bjorklund with a smile.
While the Salvation Army could use a few more volunteers like Bjorklund, Bonnie Sahf said March is a time when the food shelf needs increased support from the community.
Sahf, Salvation Army family services director, said the food shelf receives dollar allocations from Minnesota Food Share based on the pounds of food and money collected during March. Volunteers also are working toward the Feinstein Challenge, an effort which divides $1 million among non-profit agencies helping to fight hunger. This challenge also is based on the amount of money and pounds of food collected during the March fund drive.
Last year the Brainerd food shelf distributed more than 150,600 pounds of food, or 23,600 pounds more than the previous year. The food shelf was able to help more than 6,600 people, including half who were children. She said on average they give 10,000 to 14,000 pounds of food to 400-500 people each month.
Sahf said last March the goal was met to raise $15,000 and collect 15,000 pounds of food. This month the goal is to raise $20,000 and collect 20,000 pounds of food.
U.S. Bank is a fund-drive sponsor, and food and monetary donations can be dropped off at in Brainerd at 320 S. Sixth St. or at the Salvation Army offices at 208 S. Fifth St. in Brainerd.
The Salvation Army food shelf covers residents living in Brainerd, Baxter, Fort Ripley and Merrifield. It is open, usually by appointment, from 1-3:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Walk-ins may come from 1-3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.
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