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Neighbors pitch in to make a difference

Teresa Paetznick knows what it's like to need a helping hand.

When Paetznick was growing up her family took advantage of services like the local food shelf. So when she saw a newspaper article last December about the need for donations at the Community Action Council's food shelf in Rosemount, of course Paetznick wanted to help. And when that neighborhood food drive turned into something more? Well, so much the better.

That "something more" is the reason Paetznick and about 10 of her neighbors from Evermoor's Glendalough neighborhood were at the Rosemount Family Resource Center on a recent Saturday morning. It's why they handed out food and talked to the families who came to collect it. And it's why they served pancakes to the kids who came in rubbing sleep from their eyes.

It's why they plan to be back at the Family Resource Center on the third Saturday of the month for the foreseeable future.

For Paetznick, it all started with that article. She organized a food drive among her neighbors, and when she dropped off everything she'd collected she started talking with Shira Rabinowicz, CAC's neighborhood services volunteer coordinator at the Rosemount center. She wanted to find more ways to help. Rabinowicz agreed to talk to the Glendalough neighbors about opportunities to volunteer, and the group settled on the idea of provide volunteers to staff the family resource center on one Saturday morning each month.

Having the weekend hours helps, Rabinowicz said, because many of the families the resource center serves cannot come on a weekday because they are busy working or caring for children. The center is also open one night a week, but even that is tough for some families to make.

"Saturday (hours) is allowing families to come in when they're not working," Rabinowicz said. "It's allowing us to open up for more hours during that week when they're there, because there is a large need out there."

It's not just about handing out food, though. The neighbors plan to go through training so they can be part of the food shelf's intake process. That means asking the people who come to use the food shelf about what's going on in their lives and identifying other problems CAC can help them with.

"We're the food shelf, but we are a billion times more than that," Rabinowicz said. "We know that when people are calling for food there's lots of other stuff going on in their lives."

Ray Martin is a regular volunteer at the family resource center and he was there to help the Glendalough residents find their way their first time out.

"It was an interesting experience watching how they worked," he said. "They did some really, really nice things.

"I'm sure they saw things they hadn't seen before, I don't doubt that, but these were pretty bright people. They had the capacity to contribute from the get-go."

Those pancakes the group cooked up were one of the big contributions. Not all of the 10 or so Glendalough neighbors who showed up for that first Saturday wanted to help with the food shelf, but they volunteered to bring toys and games for the kids and plenty of pancake batter. Only a few kids came in at first, but as word of the pancakes spread more and more showed up.

"We probably had more kids that came than adults," Paetznick said. "We kept getting kids that were kind of rubbing their eyes coming in the door, saying, 'Are there any more pancakes left?'"

Everyone involved in the first Saturday event came away happy. For Rabinowicz, it was a way to make the CAC's services more available to people who need them. For Paetznick and her neighbors it was a way share some of their good fortune at a time when many are struggling.

Rabinowicz said there has been a lot of need lately for the food shelf, though she couldn't cite specific numbers. She said Dakota County has the fourth largest poverty population in the state at the moment.

"CAC can't do this work alone. We need volunteers," Rabinowicz said. "They're creating a healthy community and they're relating to these families parents to parents or person to person. It's a really neat thing."

The Glendalough neighbors plan to continue their Saturday morning volunteer work on the third Saturday of every month but May, when they'll work the second Saturday. The sessions will run from 9 a.m. to noon.