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Calling all volunteers -- let’s keep a food shelf in Somerset

Grace Place Shelter Manager Lori Scheder stands in the current food shelf space at Grace Place in Somerset, where about 90 families are served each month. A group of community members is trying to find a way to open a new food shelf in town when Grace Place moves to New Richmond May 1. (Photo by Sarah Young)

Plans are in place to move Grace Place to its newly purchased location in New Richmond by May 1. That means a food shelf will no longer operate in Somerset -- unless someone does something about it.

Beth Schmidt, the youth director at Christ Lutheran Church, along with other community members, is looking for a way to keep a food shelf operating in Somerset after Grace Place vacates its location at the former St. Anne’s convent. The goal is to have one running by May 1 so there’s no gap in services when Grace Place leaves.

Schmidt met with the Somerset Community Foundation Jan. 7. The SCF has agreed to be the umbrella organization for the food shelf effort, Schmidt said. Since it’s a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, it can collect donations on behalf of the new food shelf and help with the extensive paperwork needed to get something of this magnitude up and running.

Schmidt said she and others, including Pastor Kathy Tulman of Christ Lutheran Church in Somerset, have been researching other food shelves in the area to get a grasp on how much money, food and manpower is needed to staff the operation.

The biggest need, besides financial donations, to keep a food shelf going is a new location, Schmidt said.

Preferably, they need a location with a garage door where trucks can back up to unload food orders, Schmidt said. Otherwise, volunteers have to go pick up supplies, which costs time and money.

They also need a space that is bigger than the current food shelf, Schmidt said. She described the current space as narrow and like a small shed.

“We’ll need adequate space for shelves, new refrigerators, a separate area for storage, a service area,” Schmidt said.

She described the refrigerators Grace Place uses right now as “iffy,” so they would need replacing.

As a member of the Somerset Soccer Board, as a youth director and as a mother who’s at many school events, Schmidt sees many families in need.

“Just hearing the number of people on food stamps in our small town amazes me,” Schmidt said. “I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s just so apparent that it’s such a necessary thing. It’s important to me to help.”

While various churches have expressed interest in helping with the effort, Schmidt emphasizes the food shelf will not be run by any specific church. It will be a community effort.

“Somerset is in need of some things that bring community members together besides the schools,” Schmidt said. “It’s a neat opportunity for everyone to pull together. The more people you have, the more you can be open since most food shelves are open on an appointment basis to protect people’s privacy. The only way we can do that is for everyone to step up.”

Schmidt said she hopes someone will step forward as the project leader, a treasurer or a commander of food ordering. She’s also hopeful that many individuals will come forward as volunteer coordinators, grant writers or volunteers in general.

“We need all of those just to keep a food shelf available,” Schmidt said.

For now, the new food shelf could use the space at the convent through September, Schmidt said. The United Way has a lease there until then.

“We could make do with that location for the time being,” Schmidt said. “But there are so many empty buildings around town. The food shelf must be in the village limits because so many people access it on foot.”

Schmidt said it would be ideal if someone would step forward by donating a site, or providing one that’s low-rent. The space must also be temperature-controlled in order to store food.

Schmidt has many ideas on how to staff the food shelf -- if only people will take a few hours of their time a month to help.

She suggested local churches, businesses and organizations volunteering to staff it for a week at at time. Those groups can then assign different nights to different people.

“It could be school groups, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, churches,” Schmidt said. “We will need adults to work though. Kids could help with the stocking and arranging. It could be run really smoothly, but I need people. May is coming quick.”

Schmidt would also like to use the new food shelf to help those in need in other ways. Some ideas she shared were having a job posting board, cooking demonstrations with food featured at the food shelf that month and donating crock pots with healthy recipe cards.

“We might find other ways to help so they don’t need to come to the food shelf,” Schmidt said. “You could be helping someone right next to you who’s having a tough time right now.”

Shelter Manager Lori Scheder said the Grace Place food pantry serves almost 20 families a week and almost 90 a month.

“It goes up and down depending on what the seasons are,” Scheder said.

In October, they distributed almost 4,000 pounds of food; in November they gave out 4,005 pounds and in December, 2,900 pounds, Scheder said.

The current food shelf also serves as the emergency food pantry for St. Croix County. That will likely move on to New Richmond when Grace Place relocates there, Scheder said.

Anyone interested in helping with a new food shelf can attend the Somerset Community Foundation meeting at 6:30 p.m., Feb. 4, in the Learning Center Conference Room at the Somerset School District building or call Schmidt at 661-433-0862.