Randy McKain said he has big shoes to fill as the new executive director of the Bemidji Community Food Shelf.
"I just hope to fit into them at some point," he said.
McKain, who has been on the job about three weeks, is replacing Carolyn Hegland, who retired at the end of November.
Now a volunteer, Hegland still continues to be a fixture at the food shelf, which offers food for Beltrami County residents on an emergency basis up to five times a year.
Hegland retired as a Cass Lake elementary teacher in 2002, after 34 years of teaching students. She had been a longtime food shelf volunteer through Aardahl Lutheran Church, where she is a member.
In 2003 or 2004 - she is not quite sure when - Hegland became the volunteer director, a paid part-time position.
But the volunteer system already was set up pretty well and she found herself doing more public relations and education work than anything.
Hegland spent about 30-40 hours a month in the position, working on fundraising and coordinating food drives.
The community is supportive of the food shelf's efforts, she said. Each year, food drives increase and more people take part.
"Our community is wonderful," she said. "You ask the people of Bemidji for help and they step up to the plate."
McKain started Nov. 11 and said there is a lot to learn, but he has been working with Hegland to adjust to his new position.
He was a youth pastor when he first came to Bemidji 12 years ago. He said working at the food shelf reminds him of that time, when he would take area youth on mission trips.
"It's nice to be able to help someone meet their daily needs," he said. "So many of us don't recognize how lucky we are."
Hegland said her time with the food shelf has shown her that people are struggling to live paycheck to paycheck.
It is not that they will starve if they do not receive assistance through the food shelf, but that one batch of food in September could make purchasing school supplies possible. Or, this time of year, it might make buying Christmas presents a real possibility.
"It has really opened my eyes at how much people are so stretched," she said.
Hegland said the food shelf is all about helping families.
"It's one of the most rewarding things I've done in my life," she said.
Before he was hired as executive director of the food shelf, McKain had worked as the program director of the Evergreen Youth Recovery House. When the program was closed down, McKain lost his job.
Most people over the age of 60, he said, personally have had to deal with hunger before, so they are eager to help others who are struggling.
He wonders about future generations, though, which have not had as much exposure to scarcity and times of great need.
Still, he points out, younger residents of the area have been willing to help. Bemidji State University students have volunteered several times through some of their classes, and, Northwest Technical College students also provide volunteer work. McKain, as an adjunct professor at Oak Hills Christian College, plans to reach out to that community as well.
It is the volunteers, Hegland said, that make the food shelf a possibility. There are 18 area churches that are responsible for providing necessary volunteers on specific days of each month. There also are school groups and the Sentence to Serve participants.
"That is one program that is very worthwhile," Hegland said.
Most of the volunteers for the food shelf are between 60 and 70 years old. And they, perhaps, are not quite as able as some of the younger STS men and women.
The STS participants load and unload the trucks and transport goods between locations, Hegland noted.
The food shelf now is busier than it has ever been. It had 85 families visit the day before Thanksgiving. The food shelf last year served 500 families. This year, the food shelf has seen an increase of 1,500 families versus last year, and that figure was updated before Thanksgiving.
The food shelf has met many of its challenges, including increases in demand.
Still, there are more goals to be met in the future.
"The big problem I didn't get solved is that we really need storage and a walk-in freezer," Hegland said.
The food shelf gets more food than it can store. Its big shipments come in once a month from the food bank, but the food needs to last all month. Food is then stored at a dozen locations located throughout the region. All of that needs to be transported and moved continuously, which is done mostly by STS participants.
McKain, too, would like to see more education on how to prepare relatively simple dishes. Especially, perhaps, for the "lock-key" children who are home alone for a few hours after school while their parents work.
He said young adults would benefit from knowing how to prepare basics such as fresh beans.
As a major long-term goal, Hegland said the food shelf will likely have to consider a new, larger location. The food shelf, which used to be located in the space now occupied by the St. Philip's Clothing Depot, will need more space.