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More and more are finding the food shelf: Meetings set to address needs as use increases

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BEMIDJI -- The local food shelf is at a critical juncture.

"This is a really important moment in our history," said Jack Judkins, coordinator of the Bemidji Community Food Shelf. "We are at a critical time right now."

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Due to seemingly ever-increasing demand, the food shelf has been able to keep serving more and more families since it relocated to a much larger, more efficient facility in 2012.

But the need continues to rise, Judkins said.

"Hunger in our society needs to be addressed," he said. "Food shelves are not going to solve the problem of hunger; it's like putting a bandage on a wound that needs stitching."

Two community meetings are planned this week in hopes of raising community awareness about hunger and to reignite community conversations about how best to address the issue.

"This is probably one of our most challenging moments in our history," Judkins said.

Through August, the food shelf has served 7,002 families in 2013 for a total of 24,344 people. Since families can visit once a month, those figures represent duplicate visitors.

Those figures also signify an increase between 10 and 12 percent from last year.

"But if you go back to 2010, it's a 70 percent increase from the same time period," Judkins said.

An ongoing effort through the food shelf has been working toward the establishment of a garden. The garden would allow for the production of fresh vegetables for food shelf clients.

But the food shelf is still addressing how best to approach that project.

A meeting is planned for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the food shelf, 1260 Industrial Park Drive SE, for community members interested in providing input and support to that project.

"There's a lot of work to be done," Judkins said.

A second, more comprehensive meeting will follow at 10 a.m. Saturday at Calvary Lutheran Church., 2508 Washington Ave. S. Participants are asked to bring a food dish to share.

That meeting, expected to last until 2 p.m., invites the public to work with food shelf officials, hear about hunger in the community, and then break into two groups: one to discuss the garden project and the other to address the business side of food shelf operation.

"So we can set the stage for what we need to do," said Bill Beyer, food shelf board president.

It's all about food and feeding those in need, Judkins said, dispelling a myth that food shelf users return every single month without fail.

The average family comes between three and four times a year, he said.

"We truly are an emergency food shelf," he said.

SIDEBAR/BREAKOUT BOX

Two meetings have been set for this week to discuss the Bemidji Community Food Shelf and hunger in the community.

First, the community is invited to help form a committee dedicated to the food shelf's garden project. That meeting begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the food shelf, 1260 Industrial Park Drive SE.

A second, more comprehensive meeting will be 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Calvary Lutheran Church, 2508 Washington Ave. S.

The strategy event, titled Looking Towards the Future: Hopes, Dreams and Concerns," will offer a community update on hunger and then allow participants, asked to bring a food dish to share, to break into two groups: one to discuss the food shelf garden and the other to focus on the business-side operation of the food shelf.

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