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Bemidji Community Food Shelf volunteer Leo Jedlick restocks the fruit and salad cart Wednesday morning. The demand for food is always present but finding volunteers is just as important; Jelick volunteers three days out of the week. — Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

Hand in hand to fight hunger: Saturday kids event at mall also will benefit food shelf

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BEMIDJI — Families are invited to take part in a special event Saturday at Paul Bunyan Mall while also benefitting a local non-profit.

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The mall is hosting Kids Join Hands Day as a myriad of local groups offer interactive games and activities for all ages.

The event, to be held 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., is free, but participants are asked to bring a bag of food donations for the Bemidji Commu-nity Food Shelf.

The event will feature in-person appearances by Bucky the Beaver, Mighty Mouse and Yogi Bear.

An array of local groups will be represented at booths throughout the mall.

“They will all feature some sort of interactive activity, a game, a sport, something that can be done by families and the children who are attending,” said Susan Goudge, mall manager, who planned the event.

Additionally, the puppet show, “Count Me In,” will be presented. The show, featuring 3-foot-tall puppets, teaches children about special needs and disabilities.

“I am thrilled that is going to be part of our event,” Goudge said.

‘A GREAT PARTNER’

Each year, the mall holds a special event to benefit the food shelf, which served 9,800 households in 2012, providing food to 33,000 individuals, 40 percent who were under the age of 17.

Last year’s Peanut Butter Project, where the mall encouraged donations of peanut butter, brought in nearly 1,600 pounds of peanut butter for the food shelf and almost $600 in cash donations.

The initiative also was honored with the International Council of Shopping Centers 2012 U.S. Community Support Award for the Central Region, which brought an additional $5,000 to the food shelf.

“(The mall has been) a great partner,” said Jack Judkins, coordinator of the food shelf.

For this year’s event, Goudge said she was inspired by Join Hands Day, a national movement to develop relationships between young people and adults through neighborhood volunteering.

“It is a tremendous opportunity to rally together a community,” Goudge said.

She contacted local organizations to see if they would be willing to take part in an event aimed at “kids of helping kids.”

“I was amazed and overwhelmed by the positive response from every person I spoke to,” she said.

Several sponsors, too, stepped forward: Dairy Queen, Image Photography and Paul Bunyan Broadcasting.

“I just started with a blank piece of paper and everything has fallen into place,” Goudge said. “The interest and cooperation from everyone has been amazing.”

Lueken’s Village Foods, another sponsor, has offered to match all the poundage of food that is brought in by local participants.

“A match from Lueken’s is really a big deal,” Judkins said. “The idea of increasing food donations within the community … it has great potential. To find a corporate sponsor that will match donations is really a ground-breaking idea.”

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