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SOS helps neighbors

Groups of people wait as volunteers set up for the Sharing One’s Surplus ministry at Mission Covenant Church in Poplar. The program, which launched in April 2012, provides shares of food to anyone who wants them for $25 each. The program helps families stretch their food budget. (Submitted photo)

For more than a year, a Poplar congregation has been Sharing One’s Surplus with the hungry. On the second Saturday of each month, Mission Covenant Church transforms into a grocery store. Volunteers unload a truck full of fresh produce, split it into shares and distribute it. The food is available to anyone, regardless of income, for a $25 cash donation.

“We knew there were a lot of families in the community doing everything they can to make their paychecks stretch,” said Wendy Bender of South Range, one of the team members who brought in the food share ministry. “We wanted to get that food into homes which can use it.”

Participants wheel shopping carts through the line, picking up bulk produce like berries, zucchini, lettuce, spinach, peppers, bananas and more. Sometimes, the shares include cereal, milk, yogurt or bread products as well. Volunteers help load the food into vehicles and bring the carts to the next shoppers.

“Every single month I get a positive comment from somebody about how it’s helping them,” Bender said.

St. Paul Evangelistic Association collects the food from wholesalers and distributors as it is approaching the end of its marketing shelf life. The donations help pay for transportation and upkeep of the warehouse in St. Paul. Participants walk away with $100 to $200 worth of food per share.

“For our family it’s been a total blessing to have that surplus to feed our family and share with the neighbors,” said Melanie Gehl of Bennett, who is also on the leadership team. Sharing One’s Surplus (S.O.S.) opened in Poplar in April 2012. Prior to that, Gehl would travel to Ashland each month to get similar shares.

Many of the people who utilize other food programs in the area, such as Ruby’s Pantry, also go to S.O.S.

“I think they complement each other because of the different items you receive,” Gehl said. Ruby’s Pantry offers more frozen and convenience foods, while the Poplar distributions focus on fresh produce.

Gehl said her favorite shares include large quantities of fruits like berries. She washes them, freezes them and her family has fruit smoothies all winter long.

Jayne Choate of Hawthorne said she particularly enjoys shares that include tomatoes. The quantities from S.O.S. are similar to what she would have grown in her home state of Nebraska.

Currently, about 70 to 75 shares are distributed each month. But that number is deceiving.

“We are reaching more people than show up that day,” Gehl said, because most share the abundance.

Bender and her husband purchase a few shares each month and parcel food out to family members and friends who could use the help but can’t make it to the distribution.

“It’s a savings for yourself and help for others as well,” Bender said.

The amount of fresh food can be overwhelming for some. Volunteers and participants offer tips on food preservation and recipes. There are even recipes listed on the church website,

Although the ministry is making a big difference for families, it is working in the red. Dinah Johnson, a leadership team member, said they must sell about 95 shares per month to break even.

Everyone is welcome to stop by the next distribution Jan. 11. Registration tuns 8-9:30 a.m. at the church, 5161 S. County Road P. Food distribution begins at 10 a.m. Participants should bring boxes, bags and bins to transport the food. Volunteers also are needed to keep the program running smoothly.

For more information, go to the church website or call 715-364-2738.