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Food purchase program growing in Akeley

AKELEY - Fare for All, a cooperative food-purchasing program with a distribution base in Akeley, is gaining momentum on a near daily basis.

Volunteer coordinators and packaging and distribution sites are now being sought in Park Rapids and Laporte.

Fare for All, a program of the Emergency Foodshelf Network, buys in bulk at wholesale prices, enabling families and individuals to save up to 50 percent off retail. Everyone is eligible; there are no income guidelines. Distribution is once a month.

Extension nutritionist Katie Nelson learned of the program's success in Todd and Wadena counties and determined Hubbard County would benefit from Fare for All.

She set out to find a site and volunteers, contacting UCAN (United Congregations of Akeley and Nevis). Babe's Blue Ox, the Akeley grocery store, recently closed its doors.

Akeley residents Jeff and Tammy Miller, familiar with a similar program in California, agreed to spearhead the initiative. The Akeley Regional Community Center (ARCC) is their base of operation. Wal-Mart donated reusable bags for the program.

Patrons order and pay for packages by a set date each month. For example, orders are due April 1 with pickup from noon to 2 p.m. Friday, April 17 in the ARCC's small gym.

The Millers head to Wadena with a trailer to pick up the food, separating it accordingly for distribution. Because some of the food is frozen, pick up within the two-hour timeframe is imperative.

The program is growing - rapidly.

In January, five signed up; 38 families received packs in February, an estimated 100 will claim packages in March and Tammy estimates 150 orders in April.

As the number of participants increases, the Millers are hoping the truck carrying the orders will head north from Wadena to drop off food in Park Rapids and/or Akeley.

"We see everyone from people using food stamps to people giving out the food stamps," Tammy said of the "cross section" ranging from social workers and bank employees to the elderly and unemployed.

Those receiving the packages are encouraged - but not required - to contribute two hours of volunteer service each month. (Ideas range from shoveling a neighbor's drive to helping at the Fare for All distribution site.)

The program offers a variety of "packs" and participants may also order "monthly specials," such as the mega meat pack and holiday meal favorites.

Packs and prices (plus a $2 delivery charge for each) follow.

- Regular pack - Includes four or more fresh vegetables, two or more fresh fruits and three or four frozen meat ($17).

In February, for example, the pack included two pounds of onions a pound of carrots, five pounds of potatoes, five apples, three oranges, a head of lettuce, a package of pea pods and cauliflower.

The meat selections were ground beef, chicken breasts, brats and sliced ham, each package holding more than a pound.

- Light pack - One meat item and all the fruits and veggie items in the regular pack ($12).

- Meat only pack - Contains three to four frozen meat, poultry or fish ($12).

- Vegetarian - Holds a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables and dry items, such as rice, beans and pasta ($10).

- Family pack- Consists of the staples - oil, flour or sugar, soups, peanut butter, jelly, soups, canned furits and vegetables, boxed dinners, cereals and rice and pasta - to complement other items offered ($20).

There is no limit to the number of packages that may be ordered.

Orders to be paid via cash, check or EBT (electronic benefit transfer) card can be made by calling the Millers at 652-3422. Those using a credit or debit card may call 800-582-4291 to place an order.

For more information on serving as a coordinator or suggestions for a repackaging and distribution sites in Park Rapids and Laporte, contact Nelson at 237-1247.