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Donations, grants key in food shelf building project

Bill Beyer, left, president of the Bemidji Community Food Shelf board, shares a laugh with Paul Hanson, president of Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota, Tuesday afternoon at the employee appreciation picnic outside of Sanford Bemidji Medical Center. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI - It turned out to be a good day for the Bemidji Community Food Shelf as Sanford Bemidji and CenturyLink both presented sizable donations Tuesday to the nonprofit.

Sanford Bemidji pledged $7,500 a year for four years - $30,000 in all - and CenturyLink presented a $7,500 check to food shelf board members.

"This is a big deal," said Jack Judkins, the coordinator of the food shelf, of the two donations.

Together, the donations brought in more money than any other July in the food shelf's history, he noted.

The food shelf, on pace to serve 20 percent more people this year than last, also will exponentially benefit from those donations as they count toward two matching grant opportunities.

The George W. Neilson Foundation will match up to $100,000 in donations received through Oct. 1 while Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless will match up to $4,000 in donations received in July.

The Bemidji Community Food Shelf has a campaign underway to purchase the former ODC building in the Industrial Park. It has applied for a $300,000 low-interest loan through USAA Rural Development.

The donations, along with their matching grant funds, will go toward the new building project.

"CenturyLink, since it merged with Qwest, is getting back out in the community," said Michael Weller, plant supervisor for CenturyLink in Bemidji, of the donation.

CenturyLink has supported food shelves throughout the nation, he noted.

The donation by Sanford was announced outside of Sanford Bemidji Medical Center during its employee appreciation picnic.

Paul Hanson, president of Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota, said Sanford Health makes significant contributions to community groups.

"We're glad to be able to collaborate with local organizations for matching grant dollars," Hanson said.

Sanford Bemidji recently met with the Family Advocacy Center of Northern Minnesota, which serves sexually and physically abused children.

It's "impossible to say no," Hanson said, after hearing presentations from groups such as the Family Advocacy Center and the food shelf, which this year is experiencing a 36 percent increase in number of children needed its help.

"The needs out there are just unbelievable," he said.

In addition to the monetary commitment, Sanford Bemidji employees this week have coordinated a food drive to benefit the community food shelf.

"It's really a more grassroots effort," Hanson said of the food drive. "While Sanford is donating money, the food drive is a way for employees to get personally involved. We know that when it comes to food shelf donations, every box, bag and can helps."