In honor of Deland: With help of partners, food shelf starts meat program
BEMIDJI -- For 14 years, Wendell Affield helped his late friend's family as they battled through homelessness and hunger, providing them meat from his farm butcher shop.
On Tuesday, he stood inside the Bemidji Community Food Shelf as those efforts were extended to the community at large.
"This is an exciting day," Affield said, visibly emotional.
Affield is part of a collaborative program between himself, Joe Lueken, the now-employee-owned Lueken's Village Foods, the food shelf and the community.
Joe Lueken personally paid for a commercial "stuffer" -- the machinery needed to push 30 pounds of ground meat through a tube into smaller one-pound sacks -- as Lueken's Village Foods donated $1,500 toward the newly created community meat program.
Affield, while helping his friend's family over the years, long envisioned such a program.
"We helped the one family and there's hundreds and hundreds of families in this community that need help," he said. "If everyone that can pitches in a little, it makes life a little better."
Lueken's Village Foods has committed to providing $1,000 a quarter to the food shelf for the program, but the parties involved hope that fund is bolstered through donations and support of community events planned to benefit the meat program.
Lueken's staff members -- and Affield, who from 1985 to 2001 was the the butcher shop manager for Lueken's -- were on hand Tuesday to train two food shelf volunteers on how to process the meat.
"This has actually been fun this morning," said Dea Paine, who has been volunteering at the food shelf since 1995 and has been on its board for about 15 years. "Except for the cranking -- I'm short."
Pam Johnson, a community member who began volunteering in September, usually works in the warehouse unloading trucks in the morning. But this day she wore gloves as she held the bag to the stuffer's tube. As Glenn Carroll, a meat department manager with Lueken's, turned the crank, the bag was filled with beef and Johnson then passed it to Paine, who would tape it shut, place it in the tray, and add it to the dozens awaiting food shelf clients.
In total, they bagged 400 pounds of ground beef.
"The theory behind this whole program is that labor is such a big part of the price of meat. So if the food shelf could purchase it direct, and the meat is processed by volunteers, all of that overhead is eliminated and it makes it all that much more affordable," Affield said.
Each bag comes imprinted with a poignant message: In honor of Deland.
Deland, like Affield, was a Vietnam veteran. They met in the early 1990s at a local support group for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"He was very quiet," Affield recalled. "One time he called me up, came into my work ...and asked me if I could help him butcher a deer. It wasn't quite deer season yet but I told him, 'Bring it out to my farm, because I have a butcher shop out at my farm. We just, in visiting, discovered that I had been raised on a small farm up in Nebish .. and Deland had been raised in Ponemah. So we just started visiting, and I met his family."
Deland's death in 1998 from a massive heart attack was unexpected, Affield said, and in the months afterward, his family struggled.
"They were homeless and hungry," Affield said. "We would give them meat, to just help them stretch their food dollars. Over the years, I came to this idea that if the community could help them through the food shelf, then more people would be able to access meat."
One day after church, Affield mentioned to Joe Lueken his plans and Joe immediately said he wanted to take care of the bill himself for the stuffer.
"Right after Joe did that, Wendell came to see me and we heard about it and we said, 'Oh this is wonderful, we absolutely want to do it,'" said Brent Sicard, CEO of Lueken's Village Foods. "We grabbed our store directors and our meat managers -- and I'm going to give them all of the credit because I just said, 'I know we want to do it but you guys can figure out all of the logistics.'"
Both store directors -- Matt Sconce at the north store and Jim Allen at the south -- were on hand as the first batches of meat made their way from the stuffer to the bags to the trays.
"Now, being owners of our company, we're blessed beyond belief," Sconce said. "We want to be able to give back. We're beyond excited to be involved."
Want to help?
Lueken's Village Foods is holding RibFest on Saturday, an event through which the public can support the meat program now established at the Bemidji Community Food Shelf.
From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, both Lueken's stores will be selling ribs, with potato salad, chips, a dinner roll and pop. A half-rack will be $6, a full rack $8. Bemidji Axemen players will be serving and carrying out groceries during the event.
All the proceeds from the event will go toward the meat program at the food shelf.