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Ruby's Pantry celebrates three years in New Richmond

Volunteers Dan Heffron and Jo Wrich check in at the volunteer’s table.1 / 6
Bunnie Bigalk, Kim Canopy, Beth Mondor and Bob Varga stand ready to hand out food as guests come through one of the two lines.2 / 6
Kathy Wettig, Donna Skoglund, Kristin Wettig, Deb Henke and meatball baggers in the back. Photos courtesy of Judy Carlson3 / 6
Roxane Hedrington is in charge of guest registrations.4 / 6
Kathy Wettig and Kari from headquarters at North Branch are with Mona Flanum.5 / 6
Ruby's Pantry volunteers bag meatballs.6 / 6

Submitted by Ruby’s Pantry

About three and a half years ago, Mona Flanum had a vision. She had heard about this food ministry called Ruby's Pantry, where trucks bring food to communities on a scheduled date once a month; that everyone in the community is welcome and encouraged to come get an abundance of surplus food. She enthusiastically approached Kathy Wettig with her idea, they recruited a few more people, and they were on their way to accomplish their goal. First Lutheran Church was excited to have the opportunity to sponsor this new ministry. After many organizational planning meetings and with arrangements in place, the first "food distribution" was held in November 2014.

Ongoing every third Thursday of the month, Ruby's Pantry celebrated its third anniversary in New Richmond at the National Guard Armory with 77 volunteers doing the multitude of tasks to get ready for the Pop-Up Pantry — the new name for food distributions — and serve the more than 200 guests who came with two large boxes or laundry baskets to fill them with food and paper products.

A donation of $20 is requested for each "share" of food; however, no one is turned away. Likewise, anyone can donate towards shares for others who could use the help. A favorite phrase of Ruby's is, "It's a hand up, not a handout."

Of each share, 90 percent is returned to Ruby's Pantry at North Branch, Minn., to cover costs of labor, trucks, gas and other overhead expenses. The remaining 10 percent is used for community outreach after local expenses are covered. In its three years of existence, New Richmond's pantry site has given nearly $4,000 to people in need with the $2 of each donation share.

Ruby's Pantry, a faith-based nonprofit ministry, was founded by Lyn Sauer in North Branch. Food corporations in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois notify Ruby's Pantry when they have surplus food and various miscellaneous items. Ruby's Pantry then dispatches trucks to pick up their surplus and it's delivered back to their warehouse at North Branch. From there, it is distributed to more than 65 sites in Minnesota and Wisconsin on the scheduled date for each site.

A unique characteristic of Ruby's Pantry is that there are no restrictions as to who can get food. The entire community is encouraged to come to the Pop-Up Pantry to take advantage of the massive amount of surplus food that food corporations offer. So much better to use the surplus than have it wasted.

The food that is left over is divided and delivered by volunteers to a few local facilities and is much appreciated by their residents.

Oftentimes, there are large quantities of an item, perhaps more than a single, couple or family can use. If that's the case, guests are reminded that it's a great opportunity to share with friends and neighbors.

Preregistration was a welcome addition last year. Although walk-ins are certainly welcome, at this point about 30 percent of the guests have found that preregistering is a much quicker way to get through the line on their way home and that number is expected to grow.

There's a bonus, too. Assistance is available for anyone who needs help going through the line with no heavy lifting for guests. After receiving their numbered stick identifying the containers, guests simply retrieve their vehicle, drive through the garage area of the armory, volunteers match the stick number, then load containers in each vehicle.

Accomplishing the task each month requires many willing hands and hearts. This community has them. About 75 incredible volunteers show up to prepare and carry out the monthly Pop-Up Pantry every third Thursday of each month.

Please note one exception — due to the National Guard using the facility on the regular day, the first Pop-Up Pantry in 2018 will be Jan. 25.

Anyone with questions can call Mona at 715-246-4357 or Kathy at 715-248-3675. If you would like to volunteer, email judycarlson@frontiernet.net. For more information about Ruby's Pantry or to preregister, go to www.rubyspantry.org.

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