by Cori Hilsgen
The St. Joseph area is coming together on Saturday, Nov. 9 to help others who are needing some extra help.
The third annual citywide food-shelf drive will take place from 8 a.m.-noon in front of the St. Joseph Community Food Shelf on 25 1st Ave. NW, across the street from the St. Joseph Meat Market.
Food or monetary donations will be accepted. Items needed include nonperishable food items in undamaged containers, personal-care items, paper products and cleaning products. The food shelf cannot accept open packages, home-canned food or expired items.
Many area organizations are involved in this drive. They include the St. Joseph Catholic Church, Resurrection Lutheran Church, Gateway Church, American Legion, Knights of Columbus, Lions Y2K, St. Joseph Lions, local Boy Scouts, St. John’s University, College of St. Benedict, St. Benedict’s Monastery, St. John’s Abbey, Sentry Bank, Central Minnesota Credit Union, St. Joseph Area Chamber of Commerce, Salvation Army, St. Joseph Police Department, senior citizens, radio stations and the St. Joseph Newsleader.
People making donations do not even need to get out of their cars because volunteers will be on hand to collect and unload items and will also be serving coffee, juice and donuts at the food shelf.
Tom Klecker, one of many organizers of the event recently spoke at a chamber meeting about misconceptions of the poor in our society. Having grown up in an inner-city neighborhood with some residents on welfare, he can relate to a time when there were no food shelves.
Klecker said the idea of the poor being a set group of people is a myth. He said when talking about the poor and the rich, we should talk about a dynamic population as opposed to a static population. People move up and down. When retirees are no longer generating income, they start liquidating their assets so they start moving down and other people start moving up. There is fluidness between the levels of income. Based on a number of older studies, only about 5-6 percent of those defined in the lowest level of poverty stay there. Within seven years, many people who are in the lowest level move up to the highest level.
Klecker reflected on a time when he served on the Stearns County Corrections Board and spoke about the connection of poverty to criminality. One of the judges on the board told him he himself had at one time lived in one of the poorest areas of Minneapolis. This man had moved out of that income level to the income level of a judge.
Klecker said a vast majority of the people who are in poverty move up and out. He said it’s harder with the recession for some people to find better-paying jobs and there is a greater separation between the wealthy and the poor because of the type of jobs available. There is no longer as much need for unskilled workers as there has been in the past, and there is more of a disparity between the skills that are needed as opposed to the work force that is available. We are more of a service economy now as opposed to a manufacturing economy.
Klecker is the oldest of six children. For a short while he worked to help support his family. Many of his family have had prestigious positions including vice president of a bank and also the principal owner and architect of a large architectural firm. He said this is an example of how people can rise to higher-paying positions.
He went on to say there is a difference between the possibility and the probability of being destitute. Sometimes people remain poor because of choices they make instead of missed opportunities. Some people do not always have experience to know how to anticipate consequences and to defer instant gratification.
Klecker shared some points from the U.S. Census Bureau research on ways parents can reduce the chance of their children being raised in poverty to 1 percent or less. He included these four points: 1. Graduate from high school (no GED); 2. Stay at one job full- or part-time for one year; 3. Don’t have your babies until you are married; and 4. Get married and stay married.
He said he did not want people to stay in abusive relationships but added a family of four’s disposable income drops by 30 percent when a couple divorces.
“We have to look out for those people who do not have the capacity, motivation or who opportunities are not there for,” Klecker said. “By the same token, it needs to be understood there is a sense of dynamic fluidness. It is so easy to stereotype people.”
Klecker said sometimes all it requires is a little bit of help for people to move out of poverty. The food shelf can help to ensure a person has enough nutritional intake at the end of the month when funds are running short.
He said two years ago when they did the food-shelf drive, a man stopped at the food shelf and unloaded a carload of canned goods and other groceries. The man said he previously had needed to use the food shelf, but now had a good-paying job. The man said his bills were paid and his stress level was at a point he didn’t have to worry about those things. He wanted to give back something to those who had provided for him at a time when he really needed it.
“That’s what I think community is about,” Klecker said. “The food shelf is a good example of how the community really comes together to help people.”
Klecker and his wife, Meg, have lived in the St. Joseph area for 34 years. He is a retired clinical social worker/psychologist. Meg is a retired teacher. They have two children and six grandchildren.
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.