Food Shelf celebrates 25 years in Watertown

In this file photo, volunteer Kathleen Motzko stocks the shelves at the Watertown Friends For Life Food Shelf. (Submitted photo)
In this file photo, volunteer Kathleen Motzko stocks the shelves at the Watertown Friends For Life Food Shelf. (Submitted photo)

In 1988, a local Watertown prayer group likely had no idea how long their vision would last or how much it would grow over the years.

All they knew is that Watertown had a need, and they wanted to do something about it. From their concern for the people of Watertown — particularly those most in need — the Watertown Friends For Life Food Shelf was born.

The women’s prayer group wanted the new food shelf to be a ministry rather than a government program, and before long, a group of individuals from Watertown area churches formed a Board of Directors, developed a constitution and by-laws and eventually opened the food shelf on Nov. 15, 1988. In particular, local clergy members David Winter and Keith Grimm were instrumental in founding the food shelf.

Twenty-five years later, the food shelf continues to operate in much the same way it did when it was founded. Most local churches continue to be represented by a member on the board, and each church contributes to the food shelf in various ways. That’s much the way the group envisioned the ministry when it was founded in 1988.

“I remember meeting with the Watertown Ministerial,” said Debby Anderson, one of the food shelf’s founders. It was a blessing to see these men of faith from different backgrounds agreeing to bring the churches together to minister those in need. It is a testament to them and the people of their congregations showing the love of Christ to the people of Watertown.”

Many area churches continue to contribute to the food shelf, and not just in terms of monetary support and food collection, though their support in that way is also vital. A group of ladies at Trinity Lutheran, for instance, supplies quilts for Christmas, and the Watertown Evangelical Free Church provides printing services. St. Peter Lutheran creates children’s easter baskets and supplements holiday food, and St. Mark’s, St. John’s and Zion Lutheran all provide special holiday food. Peace Lutheran helps out with Hanson’s Haunted Barn, which collected more than 1,500 pounds of food for the food shelf this year. St. Paul’s often meets special needs and extends the invitation to food shelf clients to come to their free monthly meal. Immaculate Conception Catholic Church places special emphasis on the Christmas kids gift program, and River’s Edge provides help with transportation needs.

“We felt that the community helping each other was our goal,” said Linda Johnson, who has served as the Food Shelf Administrator pretty much from the start. “We saw a need and wanted it to be faith based, and all the churches were pretty much in agreement with us.”

When the Friends For Life Food Shelf first opened, it rented space in the basement of City Hall, then located at Angel Avenue and White Street. When Watertown built its new City Hall on Lewis Avenue, the food shelf moved to its current location in a room behind the kitchen. The new space offers more space and better accessibility for both clients and volunteers.

In the early years of the food shelf, an average of 30 to 35 households made use of the food shelf every month. Today, the food shelf provides help to about 75 households per month.

Although the food shelf relies heavily on food donations from the community, it also is a member of the Second Harvest Heartland network, which enables the purchase of canned, refrigerated and frozen food items at a reduced price. Foods from the Emergency Food Assistance Program are also included for a low shared maintenance fee, which means each dollar donated to the food shelf is worth many times more than face value in purchasing power.

However, the selection of grocery items from Second Harvest is limited, making food drives essential to keeping the shelves stocked with a wide variety of items. Both Marketplace Foods in Watertown and Coborn’s in Delano have also regularly supplied day-old bakery goods, and many local farmers donate eggs and seasonal produce.

The food shelf has also benefitted over the years from a variety of creative food drives., including Stuff-A-Truck drives sponsored by Mackenthun’s and Marketplace, a drive sponsored by the Watertown-Mayer High School student council, a contest between Watertown-Mayer German and Spanish classes, Christ Community Lutheran’s School’s breakfast cereal drive, boy scout’s door-to-door pickup, and even a 10-year-old girl who asked her friends to bring food donations to her birthday party instead of gifts.

“Our actions to set this up were totally by faith,” Johnson said. “To have it supported every month the way it is is huge. I wouldn’t say we’re surprised (by the level of support), but we’re always amazed at the steady support it gets.”

The Friends for Life Food Shelf also participates in a number of special events every year, including distributing backpacks filled with school supplies from Love INC at the start of the school year. Extra food baskets are also delivered at Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas., and local churches partner with the food shelf for a Christmas gift giveaway to the children of food shelf clients.

The food shelf is open every Monday night from 6-8 p.m. and Tuesday and Friday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon. Appointments are requested, and can be made by calling 952-955-1980.

The food shelf also relies heavily and a dependable crew of volunteers, which are needed for bringing in and sorting food, helping clients, and putting on special events.

“Our volunteers really seem to find it fulfilling because it is very much needed,” Johnson said. “I think most people that volunteer really enjoy it.”

Over the years, countless people have contributed to the Friends For Life Food Shelf as either board members of volunteers. Johnson said the following names all show up on the lists of volunteers over the years:

Debby Anderson, Joyce Anderson, Denise and Greg Armbruster, Rose Babatz, Jim Bart, Linda Benson, Bonita Berwald, Martha Bickel, Sharleen Blanco, Joan Blay, Clarice Boettcher, Bud and Marion Boll, Erika Bossert, Jill Bossert, Jackson Brandts, Evelyn Burgan, Mike Burns, Steve Burns, Ruth Bury, Kevin Butcher, Joel and Chris Buttenhoff, Sheryl Carpenter, Mike Cleveland, Colleen Cox, Joyce DeNomme, Bev DeVries, Eleanor Flaming, Loretta Forsberg, Laura Gamradt, Mel Giese, Tami Greenwood, Ryan Guse, Tim Gustafson, Carol Hackbarth, Diane Halloran, Jan Harder, Curt and Sue Hart, Terri Hart, Denise Harting, Nancy Hendricks, Vivian Herrman, Annette Hetrick, Beauford Hintze, Beth Holida, Helen Huber, Ardella and Rich Johnson, Harry and Louella Johnson, Linda Johnson, Neil and Sue Johnson, Carl Joiner, Rosie Keller, Debby Kreatz, Krys and Dwayne Krienke, Kathy and John Kronstedt, Edwin Laumann, Sarah Leininger, Mary Lenz, Deb Lorsung, Joan Lundeen, Marie Luptak,  Diane Lyrek, Janet Lyzhoft, Flip McDonald, Carol Maiers, Jennie Menke, Debbie Minnehan, Kathleen Motzko, Debbie Mudder, Millie Mueller, Wilmar and Orla Mueller, Bridget Nolan, Kathy O’Dell, Anita Olson, Bernice Olson, Diane Osterhoff, Renee Parochka, Cindy Pearson, Julie Philbrook, Jesse Prins, Jordan Prins, Lyn Prins, Sharon Roiland, Elaine Rosckes, Joel and Diane Rundell, Mark Rustad, Theresa Salden, Joel Salonek, Ted and Therese Salonek, Glenna Schmidt, Melvin and Velva Schneider, Joan Schroeder, Theresa Schuette, Clarice Seashore, Mike Shaw, Mary Sloneker, Susan Smith, Eleanor Stewart, Pat Thompson, Dan Tierney, Jenny Trucke, Mary Vollick, Janice Vouk, Leissa Ward, Holly Weiss, Dave Wilmot, John Wood, Gloria Wren, Arlene and Fred Zieske.


Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]