County tops city in food drive

Published 4:40 pm Saturday, December 19, 2009

.12 pounds.

Daryl Gullickson, the building and maintenance worker with the county, remembers employees with the City of Austin edging Mower County employees by .12 pounds of food per person last year in the annual competition to collect the most non-perishable food per employee.

But this year, the county regained the crown Friday for the first time since 2005.

Food donated by city and county employees was collected and weighed at the Mower County Recycling Center Friday to determine the winner.

The friendly competition dates back to 1993 with the score favoring the city 10-7. The food is donated to the Salvation Army Food Shelf.

“It’s definitely a friendly competition. City and county are always going back and forth with things,” said Tricia Wiechmann, human resource director with the city, who described the drive as a friendly competition.

This year, the county collected 1,606 pounds of food compared to the city’s 687. The county won with 7.04 pounds per employee, and the city collected about 4.87 pounds per employee.

Some county employees gave money to Gullickson, and he goes to pick up the food. Gullickson, whose helped the county raise food for 10 years, said one employee bought juice each time she went shopping and ended up collecting more than 30 bottles of it.

The competition has special meaning for Gullickson because he said his family received food from the Salvation Army when he was about 4.

“When I was little, the Salvation Army helped my family, and I always have a soft spot for the Salvation Army,” he said.

Lori Blanton, a case worker with the Salvation Army, often works to determine who’s eligible to receive food. She said it was fun to come collect the food Friday because it gave her a chance to see the other side of the spectrum.

While some food drives are spontaneous, Blanton said the joint city and county drive is something the Salvation Army employees can look forward to each year.

Food shelves like the Salvation Army have seen an increased need recently. The food shelf has served as many as 250 families a month in 2009, Blanton said.

Donations to food shelves aren’t limited to the holiday season, but the holidays are traditionally a giving time. Blanton said the Salvation Army has received enough donations to potentially last four months.

“It kind of builds up to get us through,” she said. “Then when the next big food drive happens we get built up again.”

One of the next large food drives is the Minnesota Food Share in March.

The county has collected more food for 13 of the 17 years of the competition. But those numbers can be deceiving, as the winner is determined by pounds per employee. The county has about 229 employees and the city has about 141.

In 2008, the city won with 5.53 pounds per person and 824 pounds of food. The county added 1,132 pounds of food — 5.41 pounds per person — to donate a total of 2,293 pounds of food.

Since 1993, the city and county have collects a total of 37,705 pounds of food.

To commemorate the county’s victory, Austin Mayor Tom Stiehm will present a plaque with the results to the Mower County Commissioners. The plaque has been displayed in the city council chambers, and it will be moved over to the county.