Hometown Hero: Food shelf chief stocks up on hugs
Betty Truitt spent her youth raising four kids the hard way: single, working long hours and visiting the local food shelf when ends didn't quite meet. Now a grandmother, she's determined to give back in order to help those in similar situations.
The non-traditional Rochester Community and Technical College student joined the Lions Club and started an on-campus food shelf about 18 months ago. She's donated up to $100 a month to keep the shelves stocked. It routinely takes 30-plus hours a week to lead, on top of classes and the 20 other hours she puts in volunteering elsewhere around town.
"I'll fight you with hugs," Truitt said. "I will. I'll getcha."
The food shelf has been slow to catch on, in part because of its location. It's tucked away in a fourth-floor storage closet above the cafeteria. Half of the space is still used by maintenance. Most of campus, much less the city, doesn't "even know we're here. It's a shame."
Truitt has posted signs across campus, along with four collection bins, but donations have been sparse. But her tireless energy may slowly be winning people over.
Channel One recently donated 350 pounds of food to the RCTC food shelf and, just this week, an RCTC secretary asked her friends to donate a can of food to the on-campus program in lieu of birthday presents.
December marked the program's biggest month to date, as nearly 30 people were served. The program is only open to RCTC students, faculty and staff.
"My ultimate dream is to stuff the truck at a football game, but that's at least a year away," Truitt said. "People just don't believe that there's hunger in Rochester. I'm sorry, but there is. That's just the way it is."
Food is available using a points system; the more dire the circumstances, the more food is made available. Truitt distributes the food on an honor system, declining to ask uncomfortable questions — such as names — as a way to encourage people to use her service. While still small, she says the food shelf has sparked a loyalty among those she's helped.
Last spring, an RCTC student capped his graduation ceremony by donating $50 to the food shelf as repayment for Truitt offering $20 in gas money months earlier. Others have donated their time during the twice-monthly distribution periods after previously reaping the benefits.
"Certain people have a servant's heart, and she does," said Joe Schlichenmeyer, a St. Charles Lions Club member who sponsors the RCTC program. "She's passionate about people not going to bed hungry."
However, it remains a frustrating work-in-progress. She'd like the collection bins to be painted yellow and laminated. She hopes to add wire shelving on the wall, in anticipation of increased donations. Perhaps most troubling, the registered nurse had to turn down five frozen turkeys before Thanksgiving because she lacked a freezer to store them. More recently, fresh fruit was rejected because the food shelf is without a fridge.
The closet-sized shelf is currently stocked with soup, cereal, baby food and a variety of other items, but Truitt's eyes routinely turn to the tape stuck to the wall where the words "fridge" and "freezer" serve as placeholders.
"I did the food line," Truitt said. "I ate Cheerios three meals a day. I know what it's like. I've seen the need. A lot of people don't like coming up here because they're ashamed. As I tell people, there's no shame in being hungry.
"This will be my happy little spot until I find a bigger place. And I will."