Each year millions of Minnesotans have to make a decision.

Do they pay their bills, or do they eat?

People have to choose, because they simply don’t have the funds to cover all of their expenses.

The good news is there are organizations that exist which can help make that decision easier. Known as the food shelf or food pantry, these organizations collect food and cash donations that are then allocated to people in need.

During March, those food shelf organizations have the opportunity to make significant steps forward in stocking their shelves during what is known as food shelf month.

During the next several weeks, Second Harvest is joining with local food shelf organizations in a campaign to help those who are in need.

Among the entities participating in the campaign is the Redwood Area Food Shelf in Redwood Falls. Located in the lower level of Redwood Alliance Church on Second Street, the local food shelf serves hundreds of people each week.

According to Cindy Mumme, local food shelf coordinator, use continues to be steady, as 11-12,000 pounds of food is distributed each month.

The impact is dramatic, Mumme added, as there are typically between 150-170 families being served by the local food shelf. That equates to about 600 individuals who are receiving food assistance.

“One third of that number is children,” Mumme added.

The Redwood Area Food Shelf was organized in August 1983, and over the years there have been many people who have been involved in making it work, said Mumme, who has been involved in some way for the past 15 years.

David and Cindy Mumme took over coordination of the local food shelf when John Buckley, Sr. and his wife, Caroline, stepped down after serving in that role for a number of years.

Through Second Harvest, cash donations made to local food shelf organizations can be stretched, said Mumme, as each dollar donated typically allows the food shelf access to $4 worth of food.

“The March food drive is the biggest of the year in Minnesota,” said Mumme.

While every donation that is made to the food shelf is appreciated, those financial gifts really make a huge difference when they can be used to purchase so much more food for distribution.

Over the years that Mumme has been involved with the food shelf she has seen a significant change in what is being offered to those who come.

“The options are so much healthier now,” Mumme said.

Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables are being offered, and storage upgrades have allowed the food shelf to keep more of those items on hand. The focus on healthier food options has been increasing, and Mumme said its involvement with the local farmer’s market each year helps to enhance the opportunities for those who utilize the food shelf.

During days when the farmers market is open in the summer, people can acquire locally grown produce through that connection with the food shelf.

That is good news for those who are using the food shelf, because they are getting healthier food, said Mumme, adding it is also good for the local producers who can sell their products to more people.

Mumme said the food shelf is not on an island, as it works with other organizations in the community in various ways. It is currently working in conjunction with a local backpack program that provides food for kids in the local school district to take home with them for the weekend.

As the food shelf is connected with that project, it is able to use the donations to buy more food to make it possible for more kids to get that food they need. Mumme said what she enjoys most is the rapport she is seeing develop between herself and other volunteers and the clients who come to the food shelf.

“We show them that we care for them,” said Mumme, adding that shows in the food we give them.

Mumme said it is so important for the food shelf to exist in the community simply because of the people it is helping, and as a non-profit that means it needs help from the community to make sure the doors remain open. So, requests for donations will continue to be made.

“Nobody should ever have to go hungry,” said Mumme, adding people need to eat every day, and so there is a need for more donations all of the time.

Campaigns like food shelf month are a big help, said Mumme, as it can assist through the weeks that follow, but the need continues month after month.

Mumme knows people are asked to give to a number of worthy causes, and so she wants people to know how much the gifts offered to the food shelf are appreciated.

“Whether its 50 cents or thousands of dollars, every donation helps,” said Mumme, “and when we say ‘thank you’ to those who donate, we mean it.”

Local organizations, individuals and businesses are consistent in their giving, said Mumme, and those who have partnered with the food shelf to ensure people have something to eat are a big help.

Mumme said she knows there are people during the spring and summer months who grow gardens and give part of what they raise to the food shelf.

“We have people who put in a row just for the food shelf,” Mumme said.

The need is great for anything and everything.

Mumme said those who have paper and plastic bags they would like to donate are encouraged to bring them in to the food shelf.

The food shelf is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10-11:45 a.m. and the first Saturday of the month from 8-9:45 a.m.

To learn more about the local food shelf and how to help contact Mumme at (507) 627-3653.