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MAC/NAPS sticks to the basics, donations welcome

The sheer number of people in Haiti who were left homeless and hungry by the Jan. 12 earthquake is staggering.

According to the World Food Programme, assessments have shown that there are 3 million people in Haiti who now find themselves in need of humanitarian assistance.

In such challenging economic times as these, however, it's not just in countries picking up the pieces from a devastating natural disaster where mothers, children and seniors might sometimes find themselves skipping meals because their cupboards are bare.

Unfortunately, some area programs that have traditionally provided supplemental food assistance for those in need are feeling the pinch of tightening fiscal belts as well. The Mothers and Children and Nutrition Assistance Program for Seniors (MAC/NAPS) program is one such program in need of a little charitable assistance.

The MAC/NAPS program is for income eligible residents of Becker County; senior program participants must be 60 years of age or older.

"The program is totally run by local donations," said Marsha Parker, a registered dietician and manager of nutrition services at St. Mary's Innovis Health, who sits on the MAC/NAPS advisory board.

It costs roughly $500 a month to run the program, Parker added, noting that MAC/NAPS relies on funding from local individual and business donors, as well as community organizations and churches.

"We've had some of the local churches and businesses 'adopt' a month, by taking up a collection or holding fund-raisers," Parker said. "The Detroit Lakes High School boys held a 'Mr. DL' pageant a few years ago, and donated all the proceeds to MAC/NAPS."

The only paid staff for MAC/NAPS is a part-time program coordinator, Karla Mitchell, who receives a small stipend for her work.

"Karla's the one who has to process all the calls (requesting assistance)," said Ronda Stock, Community Health Supervisor for Becker County Human Services. "It's her job to coordinate all the volunteers and send in the required paperwork."

And lots of volunteer help is needed to help distribute the food boxes each month. Each food box contains about $50 worth of food, and weighs around 40 pounds. The food inside includes canned meat, vegetables and fruit, cereal, cheese, dry beans, dry and evaporated milk, fruit juice and about two pounds of pasta, rice or instant potatoes.

"It's all staples -- no processed or convenience foods," Parker explained.

The boxes are packaged and shipped from North Country Food Bank in Crookston (which also serves the Becker County Food Pantry), but must be unpacked and distributed by local staff, Stock said.

St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Detroit Lakes hosts the distribution, which takes place on the first consecutive Thursday and Friday of each month, she added.

To take the food boxes off the truck, Mitchell utilizes the services of the Becker County DAC and Sentence to Serve (STS). (The DAC workers do receive an hourly wage for their work, Stock added.)

Tracy Baker, nutrition education assistant for the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Becker County, also takes part in the monthly distribution by doing an on-site cooking demonstration.

"She's there almost every month, on at least one of the two days," Stock said. "She does a little cooking demonstration with recipes based on the ingredients in the food box.

"She has samples to taste and everything. They're (program participants) usually pretty impressed."

"Both Ronda and I are really passionate about this program," Parker said. "There are so many people in our own back yard who are going hungry, and this program addresses that need."

For instance, many seniors on a tight monthly budget might find themselves having to choose between paying the heating bill, buying prescriptions or buying food -- and it's the food supply that often ends up a little short, Parker said.

"With our older adults the goal is to remain independent and stay in their homes as long as possible -- and nutrition is a very important part of that," she added. "It's important to have a balanced diet to maintain nutritional health.

"Many families are struggling as well, making that same kind of sacrifice," Parker continued. "Food sometimes takes a lesser priority -- sometimes parents are even forced to dilute the formula for their babies to make the food dollars stretch.

"MAC fills in that gap between WIC (Women, Infants and Children, another supplemental assistance program) and the school nutrition programs," she explained.

The local MAC/NAPS program is made possible through the cooperative efforts of North Country Food Bank, Mahube Community Council, Becker County Human Services, Becker County Community Health, St. Luke's Episcopal Church, the University of Minnesota Extension Service, St. Mary's Innovis Health, the Becker County Coordinator on Aging, and the Becker County Sentence to Service program.

Tax deductible donations to the MAC/NAPS program may be made out to Mahube (make sure you specify the program you would like the donation to go) and sent to: Mahube Community Council, 1125 W. River Road, Detroit Lakes MN 56501.

To apply for MAC/NAPS, call Becker County Community Health at 218-847-5628, ext. 5397, or 877-281-3272.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454