PEQUOT LAKES -- For many families in the Brainerd lakes area, Thanksgiving is a time to gather together and celebrate with food -- lots of food.
But for some families, the holidays can be a painful reminder that at the end of the month, there isn't much money left for extras like pumpkin pie or a large roasted turkey.
That's why on Saturday the Lakes Area Food Shelf in Pequot Lakes and its volunteers handed out 160 Thanksgiving food baskets for families in need.
The baskets included all the fixings for a Thanksgiving dinner, from an 11-pound turkey to sweet potatoes, green beans and corn and ingredients to make a pumpkin pie, stuffing and cranberry sauce.
The food baskets were given to families who use the food shelf as an extra supplement for the holiday season. Families can sign up to receive similar food baskets at Christmas and Easter, too, said Lou Timmerman, president of the Lakes Area Food Shelf.
Cindy Lubke, a Lakes Area Food Shelf board member, packed apples and stuffing into a paper sack for one of 160 families in need who received a Thanksgiving food basket.
"They're ecstatic," Carey Rasinski, food shelf manager, said of the families who receive the holiday baskets. "They say, 'And this is mine, too? And this? And this?'"
"They love it," added Timmerman. "They're very grateful."
Volunteers and board members assembled the food baskets Friday. They were handed out Saturday to families who signed up for them.
The Lakes Area Food Shelf was created in 1991 by Lutheran Church of the Cross and Christ Community Church in Nisswa and now leases land next to Grace United Methodist Church in Pequot Lakes. It serves families in Nisswa, Lake Shore, Breezy Point, Lake Hubert, Jenkins, Ideal Township and the Pequot Lakes area.
In 1991, the food shelf served an average of 65 families a month. It now serves about 66 families a week. So far the food shelf has had 53 new families sign up for services this year.
Because the number of families have increased, so have the food shelf's needs. The food shelf board recently bought a larger commercial cooler where they can store garden vegetables and other fresh produce that gardeners often donate in the summer. In the past they have had to turn away fresh food donations because they simply didn't have the storage space, said Don Messick, a food shelf founder and chief financial officer.
The food shelf has a $6,000 monthly budget, which is used to buy food for families, along with other building expenses. The food shelf relies on a small portion of federal and state funding, but mostly depends on the generosity of area churches, organizations and individuals who raise funds and food. They have added two building additions since 1991 because of the tremendous growth in families who at times rely on the food shelf.
Still, there are months when the food allocations for families are spread a lot thinner than food shelf volunteers would like because the food shelf doesn't have the funds.
"We're struggling along," said Messick, who has volunteered at the food shelf since its inception 13 years ago. "We stay afloat and that's the important thing. We're able to provide for every expense."
They are always in search of food donations, but monetary donations are the most beneficial since they can buy food in bulk at a discounted rate from the Second Harvest Food Bank in Grand Rapids.
For example, Messick said a can of peaches can be bought at a retail price for 89 cents, but food shelf volunteers can buy 24 cans of the same peaches for $1.44.
Timmerman said the food shelf will need to buy a computer by next March to comply with new food ordering procedures.
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