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Thirteen students from Voyageurs Expeditionary School worked at the Bemidji Community Food Shelf bagging bulk food and hygenic packages. (From left) Olivia LaDuke, Christian Tenuth and Olivia Baumann work in an assembly line to bag frozen eggs on Friday afternoon. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

Sharing for the shelf: Bemidji Community Food Shelf looks to boost inventory as March is FoodShare

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BEMIDJI — You might want to toss a few extra boxes of pancake mix into the grocery cart this weekend.

As March comes to an end in just over a week, so will Minnesota FoodShare Month, the largest food drive held throughout the state. Throughout the month, thousands of churches, businesses, schools and civic groups rally together to raise donations to restock hundreds of food shelves throughout Minnesota.

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Locally, the Bemidji Community Food Shelf is benefitting from a variety of drives throughout the community.

One is a “round-up” at Kenny’s Clark and Goodyear, 423 Bemidji Ave. N. There, customers have the option of rounding up their total purchase to the next whole dollar amount. The difference is then calculated and tallied together and donated to the food shelf.

“Most people thank us for doing it,” said Scott Merschman, systems operations manager with Kenny’s. “Overall, it’s really beneficial for everyone involved.”

The round-up drive is not unique to the food shelf as Kenny’s holds similar campaigns throughout the year for the Boys & Girls Club and Fishing Has No Boundaries, but Merschman said Kenny’s tries to plan such initiatives during timeframes when donations increased through matching grant opportunities, like FoodShare Month.

Calculated through a detailed formula, donations brought in during FoodShare Month are increased by roughly 10 percent.

FoodShare Month comes as a good time as spring and summer typically are slower months for food donations, so the goal is to bring in enough donations to stock the food shelf until fall.

Mary Mitchell, the new coordinator of the Bemidji Community Food Shelf, said last year’s FoodShare donations brought in an additional $9,000.

Last year, the local food shelf during FoodShare last year was ranked No. 18 in the state for its donations during March, having received in 53,681 pounds of food and $86,473 in donations.

“It’s been wonderful,” Mitchell said, speaking to the amount of community support. “Every day I hear something from someone at the food shelf … saying we’ve gotten a check or donation from someone. It’s just really great.”

This year, the goal is to raise $90,000 in cash and 60,000 pounds of food. This year, specifically, they’re seeking items such as pancake mix, baking powder and baking soda.

“Thanks to the enthusiasm from the community, we are well on our way to meeting our goal,” Mitchell said.

Helping hands

Merschman said that as a small local business, Kenny’s does donate to charities as it is able, but that it started doing round-up drives about three years ago to partner with its customers to more greatly help local nonprofits, such as the food shelf.

As of the Tuesday, Kenny’s had raised $135.78 toward its $200 goal.

Farther into downtown, Tammra Holman, owner of Tk’z Clozet at 217 Third St. NW, is offering her customers store credit if they bring in food donations.

The drive, which aims to raise 1,000 pounds of food, offers customers $10 of in-store credit if they bring in five nonperishable food items.

Holman said she has never done such a drive before, but heard frequently this winter about people struggling with their heating costs. That, combined with the numbers of people turning to the food shelf for assistance led her to want to help.

“It’s been a tough year for everyone,” Holman said, noting that she’s observed a strong response to the promotion from her customers.

Schools, too, are getting involved. The food shelf recently accepted donations from the student council at Lincoln Elementary that included more than 150 pounds of peanut butter, an expensive yet highly sought food item.

Students at Horace May Elementary raised more than 80 pounds of food in a peanut butter and macaroni and cheese collection.

Also, Voyageurs Expeditionary School applied for and received an $818.55 Serve a Smile grant from Delta Dental to purchase, create and distribute personal care kits to food shelf clients.

Consisting of dental care items, shampoo, soap and deodorant, Voyageurs middle-schoolers handed out the kits Friday, spending time at the food shelf as they first packaged the items and then distributed them to to clients.

“The students volunteered at the food shelf before and they really liked doing it,” said Sarah Lawrence, an AmeriCorps promise fellow serving at Voyageurs through the Minnesota Alliance With Youth. “This seemed like a cool way to get them involved.”

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