Food fight: Schools challenged by CAER

Every year Minnesota FoodShare sponsors a monthlong fundraising event to raise money for Minnesota’s 300 food shelves. A portion of the funds raised by local food shelves are matched by Minnesota FoodShare, making this the state’s largest grassroots food and fund drive. According to Carmen Pouliot, Community Aid Elk River Food Shelf’s executive director, this type of grassroots movement is exactly what’s driving CAER’s own March campaign fundraising efforts.

“We want to involve all parts of the communities we serve in this effort,” she explained. “The ‘food fight’ analogy is often overused when talking about raising money to provide food for those who are hungry. But this year, we thought we’d make a real communitywide contest out of it.”

Pouliot first approached the Elk River Area School District with the idea, seeking their participation and cooperation as CAER reached out to the schools to initiate an old-fashioned, bragging rights, winner-takes-all competition. So far, 12 schools have joined the food fight, she said, including Zimmerman Elementary, Meadowvale Elementary, Otsego Elementary, Parker Elementary, Lincoln Elementary, Westwood Elementary, Hassan Elementary, Salk Middle School, VandenBerge Middle School, Elk River High School, Ivan Sand Community High School and Spectrum High School.

“By engaging students directly, we hope to raise hunger awareness among the children, their parents and our teachers. This event gives them a fun way to get involved and hopefully will wet their appetite for lifelong community involvement,” Pouliot said.
Schools are not the only organizations targeted by CAER for this community wide effort.

“We are also reaching out to businesses, civic organizations, churches and individuals to get involved. There’s nothing like a little friendly competition to get people’s creative juices flowing and finding fun ways to raise money/food and have fun,” Pouliot said. “Already several H&R Block offices are putting together a contest to see who can raise the most money or food for the respective food shelves.”

Others have also joined the fight, including Target and a member competition between the Elk River Rotarians and Lions. Pouliot is hopeful that many more organizations will join in as well.

Historically, March has been identified by food shelf and other hunger relief workers as a critical time of year. Donations are typically down following the holidays and hunger remains persistent. Ironically, while the economy overall has been improving, the number of hungry neighbors remains stubbornly high. Minnesota FoodShare reports that the number of elderly in Minnesota who are seeking hunger relief has nearly doubled since 2009.

How widespread is hunger in the communities CAER serves? According to Pouliot, nearly 4,682 people visited CAER in 2016. Of those, 2,526 were children and 273 were seniors.

“We are definitely seeing an up-tick in the overall number of visits families are making to food shelves,” she said. “Fortunately, our food rescue and purchasing partners made it possible for us to distribute 916,000 pounds of food in 2016. That’s 458 tons of staples, meat and produce.”

Other March events designed to help CAER raise food and monies include:
•Drive 4 UR Community, March 11, 8-11 a.m. at the Elk River Lutheran Church Parking Lot in downtown Elk River. Sponsored by Cornerstone Auto Group, here’s your chance to test drive a new Ford and raise $20 for CAER. One test drive per household and you must be 21 to drive.
•McCoy’s sixth annual 5K Walk and Run for CAER, March 11, 8 a.m. to noon. Dress up in your Irish outfit and join the community in this fun event to raise money for CAER Food Shelf. Registration begins at 8 a.m. and the event starts at 9 a.m. sharp. The 5K runs through historic Elk River and ends at McCoy’s Irish Pub. To register go to McCoysirishpub.com.

For more information on Minnesota FoodShare March Campaign, or to find out how you or your organization can help, call CAER Food Shelf at 763-441-1020, follow CAER on Facebook, or visit www.caerfoodshelf.org.