For two months last year, no peanut butter was available at the Bemidji Community Food Shelf.
"(That) is unprecedented," said Jack Judkins, the coordinator of the food shelf.
A new effort called the Peanut Butter Project aims to address that need by gathering peanut butter donations to be given to the food shelf. Collection bins for jars of peanut butter are available at Paul Bunyan Mall, Lueken's Village Foods, MarketPlace Foods and Harmony Natural Food Co-op.
"It certainly fills a need," said Susan Goudge, project founder. "It provides them with an opportunity to be able to provide peanut butter on a regular basis."
Goudge, the manager of Paul Bunyan Mall, heard on the national news that the cost of peanut butter was escalating, causing difficult problems for families.
The Peanut Butter Project was soon born. With the theme "Kids Helping Kids," Goudge reached out to area schools, incorporating 13 area schools into the community volunteer initiative.
The Peanut Butter Project began in mid-February as part of National Kindness Week and will continue throughout March, which is National Nutrition Month.
March also is Minnesota FoodShare month, a statewide annual effort to refill the food shelves throughout Minnesota.
Judkins said the Bemidji food shelf is on pace to service 30,000 people this year, more than half of whom are children younger than 17.
With so many children seeking food, he said, the effort to get peanut butter is greatly appreciated.
How to take part
The community is asked to participate in the project by donating jars of peanut butter at the various bins within the city.
In addition to the mall and grocery stores, donations can be made at the following schools: Central, Horace May, J.W. Smith, Lincoln, Northern, Solway, Schoolcraft, St Philip's, St. Mark's, Bemidji Middle School, Bemidji High School, TrekNorth and at Bemidji State University at its sustainability office.
The project has received an abundance of community support with volunteers, including Girl Scout Troop 41, and a radio campaign from Paul Bunyan Broadcasting.
But donations are still needed.
Goudge said about 300 jars have already been collected but she is looking for a "huge increase" in donations as the project begins its final three weeks.
Food shelf needs
The food shelf last year served more than 27,000 people but is on track to see a greater number of clients this year.
More than 800 were served in January.
Judkins told the Pioneer in January that food shelf workers have seen an increase in new customers and families coming in under tremendous pressure and stress in their lives.
"Many, many people who have never had to avail themselves to any social services," he said. "It's really hard for them."
March's FoodShare drives aims to collect enough donations - food and cash - to refill Minnesota food shelves, which often are depleted during winter months.
From 2008 to 2010, visits to food shelves increased by 62 percent statewide, according to Hunger Solutions. From January 2011 to March 2011, food shelf visits increased 7.5 percent. In 2010, there were more than 3 million visits to Minnesota food shelves.