Bonnie and Eleanor Hedrick donate food to the Chatfield Weekend Backpack Food Program at the Chatfield Public Library.
SUBMITTED PHOTO Bonnie and Eleanor Hedrick donate food to the Chatfield Weekend Backpack Food Program at the Chatfield Public Library.
The proof is in the pudding.

“Granola bars and pudding were the first challenge,” said Denise Pagel, coordinator of the Chatfield Weekend Backpack Food Program, as she spoke about the library’s recently-concluded food collection.

Chatfield Public Library director Monica Erickson added, “We wanted enough pudding and granola bars for each kid, so we needed 60 of each.”

Pagel continued, “We got 94 puddings and I think 124 granola bars, and they kept coming in.”

The food collection, held from the end of January to the middle of March, was a collaborative effort between the backpack food program and the library. Patrons were given a different challenge every two weeks to bring in donated food items to be distributed to children participating in the food program which provides supplemental food – meals and snacks — to tide them over on weekends when they’re not in school where the guarantee of school cafeteria meals offers them security.

Pagel and Erickson declared the collection a success, as Pagel recounted that it garnered 417 pounds of food and $545 in monetary donations. Support also included an amount from Thrivent Financial because it was a Thrivent Financial Action Team Event.

Erickson and Pagel relied upon creativity to grab patrons’ attention to the collection.

Pagel remarked, “Having creativity and the challenges made the collection a success. One of the challenges was that people got $3 off their library fine if they brought in a 16-ounce jar of peanut butter, and for each pasta meal that they brought in, they got a cookie because I made cookies. I don’t think they all took a cookie, but there were a lot of pasta meals.”

Erickson elaborated, “If they brought in two cans of tuna or Tuna Helper, they could pick any book from the book sale for free, but a lot of people just wanted to give…our goal was to get a jar of peanut butter per family, but people kept bringing it in. They were all cheerful givers. It was overflowing the bin, which was fun.”

Pagel agreed, “Our first week, we got 107 pounds of food.”

Monetary donations came from generous people who stopped in at the library and wrote checks or dropped their spare change into a jar for the cause.

Pagel commented, “Our first check was for $250 from a local donor, and that certainly exceeded my expectations.”

Erickson stated, “He just quietly came in and wrote a check…it floored me.”

Pagel went on, “We got a total of $545 plus $250 from Thrivent for the Action Team Event.”

The funds gathered will be put to use to purchase food items that are not donated, as Pagel estimates that the cost per bag of food is $6.

“I’m a thrifty shopper, and I always buy everything on sale. As a person who has to supply food each week, it’s helpful to me to know there was enough food and that I had money to do shopping,” she added.

Posing challenges to the library’s patrons and visitors made the collection more fun for everyone who participated, even the organizers.

Erickson explained that it was knowing how many of each food item was needed that inspired her to propose the challenges.

“Knowing that she was going to need 60 of ‘this’ and 60 of ‘that’ each week…that’s when the idea for the challenges came.”

Pagel expressed her appreciation for the help Erickson and library staff gave in making the collection possible because it showed how generous people are.

“The neat thing about doing this in a place like this is that everybody cares about kids. I got two checks from people in Stewartville and one from someone who lives in Eyota. I asked a lady who donated from Stewartville why she decided to donate, and she said that she has grandchildren in this school district,” Pagel explained. “I think the challenges made people stop and notice. It’s with pride that I live in a community that cares about the needs of our children, and my thanks to our library friends, the library board and the staff for letting us disrupt their environment.”

Erickson countered, “We thank you for asking us to collaborate with you.”

Pagel extended her gratitude to friends of the library who shared news of the collection on social media, to Erickson for posting the information about the food-share in her weekly newspaper column, to the city for including it in its newsletter, and to the people of Chatfield who dug into their pockets or cupboards to help kids have a good weekend.

She invited anyone who would still like to donate food items or cash to the weekend food program to do so, as the school year is only two-thirds through and there’s plenty of need for more pudding.

“If anyone wants to donate, they can mark it for the backpack program and put it in the cart just inside the fellowship hall at Chatfield United Methodist Church – it has to be marked for the backpack program because we share space with the community food shelf,” Pagel said. “Or they can bring it inside the hall, next to the food pantry, where we have a food collection bin for our program. The church is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays.”