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AUSTIN EDITION Scouts team up in fight against hunger

Boys, girls will fan out to collect food

By Nikki Merfeld

*merfeld@postbulletin.com

Boy and Girl Scouts will be bustling around town Saturday morning in an attempt to help stave off hunger among those suffering from the country's economic downturn.

They will blanket the town collecting filled grocery bags set out by residents wishing to contribute to the cause.

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"It's a nationwide good turn that Boy Scouts do," said leader Keven Maxa of Austin.

Austin has a unique collaboration that brings together scouts of both genders in the Scouting For Food effort. Maxa's wife, Julie, is a Girl Scout leader, so the two open up the event to their respective troops.

The children earn credits toward merit badges and tally community service hours for their involvement.

"We had 13 Girl Scouts who helped last year," Keven Maxa said.

Donations will be taken to Austin's Salvation Army, Maxa said. Scouts in Dexter, Elkton and Lyle conduct separate collections and deliver the food to Austin's Salvation Army, he said, while LeRoy has a food shelf of its own.

The food is weighed and amounts from each community are tracked separately. Last year, scouts collected 7,000 pounds of food locally.

"It makes an impression on kids when they see this," Maxa said of the mounds of food.

As part of Minnesota FoodShare Month, Austin's Salvation Army is conducting its annual campaign for donations to its food pantry, said Patricia Wright, social services coordinator for the Salvation Army.

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During March, three organizations will provide funding or donations based on the amount of donations and funds raised locally and the number of clients served, Wright said. These are not dollar-for-dollar or pound-per-pound matching grants, she said, but rather "incentive allocations."

The groups that provide assistance this way are Minnesota FoodShare, Hunger Solutions and a Feinstein grant, Wright said.

"All the food and all of the supplies we collect here stay here in Mower County," she said.

The need is increasing because of layoffs and a lack of jobs, she said.

"Our average food use is up about 12 percent (over last year."

Mayor Bonnie Rietz on Wednesday proclaimed March is Minnesota FoodShare Month in Austin. The proclamation reads, in part: "Nearly half of hungry Minnesotans are children 12 years old and younger; and the fastest-growing groups of hungry Minnesotans are senior citizens and people who are working, and the creeping effects of hunger in the life of an individual or family can range from poor health and slowed recovery from injury to poor performance at school and at work."

The proclamation also states that the March campaign generates half of all food donated annually.

"Food shelves statewide receive untold donations during the holidays to help with holiday food baskets. Everyone is in the giving mood during the holidays. By March, the shelves are starting to get bare," according to information from Minnesota FoodShare.

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