Thirty-nine thousand pounds of food, and 1,300 gallons of milk.
Folks needing a helping hand found several just north of Rochester International Airport at the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 parking lot. Local union members with the Southeast Minnesota Area Labor Council hosted a free food giveaway in partnership with the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program.
"They're very appreciative," said Gene Grover, a member of IUOE 49 from the Kasson-Mantorville area. "They're asking if we need donations."
That, however, was not needed. The food was all donated through the USDA, and the work was done by union volunteers who braved a biting wind to make sure hungry folks got nutritious food.
"We got here at about 7 o'clock this morning," said Pommella Wegmann, president of the SMALC. A forklift helped unload the 24 pallets of food, and by 9 a.m., the first visitors arrived. "It really picked up at about 10:30, and we've had a steady stream of cars since."
The 30-pound boxes containing fresh fruits and vegetables; dairy items, such as cheese and yogurt; and fresh meats — plus the gallons of milk — were loaded into waiting cars, she said.
While unions in Minnesota have held similar events in the Twin Cities area, and there are upcoming food giveaways in Duluth, St. Cloud and Fargo-Moorhead, this was the unions' first event of this nature in Rochester.
Wegmann said she was concerned the remote location by the airport might be a problem, but by 12:30 p.m., the supply of boxes was easily being matched by the supply of cars.
"We've had lots of people come through that are picking up for multiple families, that are either working or couldn't make it here themselves," she said. "We say, 'How much do you want? We can give you as much as you need,' then we load them up and send them on their way."
All this with no cost, no limits on the number of boxes, and no eligibility requirements.
"You can take as much as you want, as much as you need," Wegmann said.
Even with that generosity, Grover said he and fellow volunteers had to talk people into taking more than one box and a gallon of milk.
"They do self-limit," he said. "They usually just ask for one, and we pressure them a little bit, and they'll be like, three would be great. We put them past their comfort zone of taking."
With so many families living paycheck to paycheck even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Grover said he understands families are struggling to make ends meet. So doing what he can — what all his fellow union members can — is important to give folks a little boost, both to fill their fridge, and to lift their spirits.
"Times right now are pretty tough on families," he said. "Families try to persevere through these hardships, so we're just trying to offer a helping hand."