WORTHINGTON - In the midst of the season of giving and giving thanks, individuals across Minnesota are in need of assistance when it comes to putting food on the table.

That includes more than 400 families in the Worthington area that receive assistance from the Manna and Worthington Christian food pantries.

According to Manna Food Pantry Director Linda Sanchez, the emergency, income-based food pantry is beginning to see an uptick in usage.

“We understand there’s a constant turnover in employment, but we’re not sure what to attribute the uptick to,” Sanchez said. “Between now and spring, we’ll see an increase.”

The need fluctuates all year, and Sanchez guesses the summer increase is due to kids being out of school for the summer and a winter uptick due to seasonal worker layoffs.

“A lot of those seasonal workers stick around here,” she said.

For the shelves, the immediate needs include dried beans and canned fruit, preferably stored in its own juice.

Since installing a walk-in cooler and freezer last December, the pantry also accepts perishable options like fresh produce.

“Fresh is best is our motto here,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez said the coolers funded by grants and area businesses and charitable organizations have been a godsend, allowing the pantry to offer healthier produce options to its clients.

The pantry has also been fortunate to receive an abundance of produce donations during the summer when individuals donate it from their personal or commercial gardens.

But as the growing season came to an end, so did the produce donations.

“Right now our fresh produce is way down,” Sanchez said.

The freezer will also allow the pantry to accept more festive donations for the holidays.

“If anyone wants to donate turkeys or hams for Thanksgiving or Christmas we will accept those,” she said.

Just like the pantry’s need for continuous food donations, volunteers are also always needed.

Right now, the pantry could use a couple more volunteers, preferably with a van or pickup, to pick up goods from area grocery stores Walmart, Fareway and Hy-Vee, which donate bakery, produce and minimal canned goods on a weekly basis. The time commitment would be an hour or less per day, Sanchez said.

She added that volunteers are also always needed at the pantry, which is located in the basement of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Worthington. Hours are from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but volunteer hours would be flexible.

Sanchez said individuals across the state continue to collaborate in an effort to curb hunger in Minnesota.

Sanchez, along with more than 800 individuals, attended a recent Minnesota State Food Summit in Duluth. Summit leaders shared that Minnesota is within the top 10 worst states when it comes affordable, healthy food options. That statistic is likely due to Minnesota’s many rural areas that are considered food deserts - communities with no grocery or convenience store within a 10-mile radius, Sanchez said.

Sanchez said there were 532,000 individuals served across the state in 2016. Of those served, 64 percent were of a household where at least one person earned an income, 33 percent were children under the age of 18 and 10 percent were seniors.

Those statewide statistics are synonymous to Manna Food Pantry’s clients, Sanchez said.

Sanchez applied that statistic to how she could better serve local residents, and the result is senior days on the first Thursday of each month.

Sanchez considers the senior day a success, noting that she had six individuals over age 60 utilizing the pantry before senior Thursday and there are now 42.

For more information about the Manna Food Pantry or to volunteer, contact Sanchez at 329-1951.