The holidays can be a difficult time for those struggling to make ends meet. The Christian Cupboard has worked to make things a little easier.
The local food shelf, which operates out of Woodbury Lutheran Church, has been busy lately: it gave out more than $20,000 worth of toys and added $30 gift cards for the Christmas season to the bags of food for its clients.
Christian Cupboard serves an average of 130 families each week and gives out about 6,000 pounds of food, said Dick Wolff, president, who helped found the food shelf in 1983. Those clients have grown, he said, as the poor economy took its toll on the area. Yet the community has continued to provide support.
"Our givers are fewer, their amounts are bigger," he said. "So the fact is that we gave food to a good number of people who have been donors in the past."
Civic groups and local organizations, such as the Boy Scouts, contribute to the Christian Cupboard, but it also relies on the support of individuals and families.
"If people ask me, what do we prefer, money or food, my response is: If you've got kids involved, I'd like them to clean out the cupboard or go to their neighbors and ask them to contribute food," Wolff said. "But if you don't have kids, it's a whole lot easier to write a check."
The bulk of its groceries come from Second Harvest Heartland, through which the Christian Cupboard gets 10 pounds of food for each dollar.
"If you go to the store, you're lucky to get a pound of food for that dollar," Wolff said.
Those who wish to donate can drop off food from 8:30-11 a.m. on Wednesdays or leave bags of groceries at Woodbury Lutheran.
Food shelf workers try to create a familial atmosphere so clients don't feel any trepidation.
"It's difficult the first time around, they don't know what to expect, and they feel like it's embarrassing," Wolff said, adding later, "There's nothing embarrassing about it."
The food shelf typically serves two types of people, said Sharon Wolff, Dick's wife and the executive director of Christian Cupboard. One is the young mother or young families with children.
"Most of them work, but they don't make enough," she said.
The other is older couples or empty nesters who lost their jobs or don't have enough retirement funds. Sometimes it's just a mater of seniors having their work hours cut back. "That happens a lot," Sharon Wolff said.
In the early 1980s, Dick Wolff tried to start a food shelf from his home. "Didn't work, total failure," he said. So he teamed with seven area churches to found the Christian Cupboard.
What's it like running a food shelf?
"Tiring," Dick Wolff said with a laugh. "I do find it rewarding, as my wife does. It keeps us pretty busy—one day in November we had 48 phone calls at home."
The Christian Cupboard serves people in Woodbury, Landfall, Oakdale and parts of Maplewood. It's open from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Fridays.