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Bemidji Community Food Shelf: Loan helps secure new location

The Bemidji Community Food Shelf Board of Directors is overseeing the relocation of the food shelf from its current location to a new site in the Bemidji Industrial Park. From left are board members Carolyn Hegland; Melanie Rietveld; Edith Hoyum, treasurer; and Bill Beyer, president. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – By this time next month, Bemidji Community Food Shelf clients will be grocery shopping in a new location.

The food shelf has secured a $300,000 loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program to purchase a building in Bemidji’s industrial park.

“This is great news for Bemidji,” said U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson in a press release. “One in five Minnesota children face(s) hunger or food insecurity. This loan will ensure that the Bemidji food shelf can continue its good work feeding hungry children and families in the community.”

The loan, combined with about $250,000 raised by the food shelf, will allow it to relocate operations to the former ODC building, 1260 Industrial Park Drive SE.

Minor construction work is now underway and a new sign has been installed outside of the building proclaiming it to be the “Future Home of Bemidji Community Food Shelf.”

On Thursday, the board of directors selected Oct. 24 as a target date to begin serving clients at the new site. Discussions with Paul Bunyan Transit are underway for providing public transportation to the new location.

“Really, the building will not be complete by then, but we will have done what we need to have done so we can serve clients at that time,” said Bill Beyer, president of the board. “It’s exciting.”

The new site, boasting a size at least six times larger than the current facility along Fourth Street in downtown Bemidji, allows for a variety of service expansions, supporters said.

Most notably, perhaps, the new site will allow the food shelf to change its service model. Rather than pre-selecting the foods that clients will be given for their monthly visits, clients at the new site will be provided a shopping cart, a grocery list and access to the food shelf “store,” an area with food choices arranged on traditional grocery store shelving.

The grocery list will dictate the requirements for the type (e.g. vegetables, fruit, bread, etc.) and quantities, but clients themselves will select the specific food items most appropriate for their families.

After selecting their groceries, clients will take their goods to a checkout, where an oversized scale will allow the food shelf to weigh the food for its records.

“A lot of the stuff we did before, the client will be able to do now,” said Jack Judkins, coordinator of the food shelf.

It’s not about lessening the burden on volunteers but rather increasing choice for clients, Judkins noted.

The new site, on an acre and a half of land, offers other opportunities as well, including the potential for an outside garden, expanded cooking demonstrations and year-round composting.

“We have a lot of real interesting possibilities,” Judkins said.

The food shelf announced in March that it was planning to relocate to the former ODC site, primarily due to outgrowing its current location.

Until recently, it had about a half-dozen storages sites and trailers sprinkled throughout the region for food storage. Now, with a warehouse area larger than the entire current facility, the food shelf is able to house all of its offerings within the same building.

“For the first time ever, all of our food will be in one place,” Judkins said.

Soon, a walk-in freezer and cooler will be installed.

“We’re really excited about the space,” Beyer said. “It’s just wonderful.”

The new space will allow the food shelf to accept donations of paper products and personal hygiene products. Though the food shelf does not spend any of its money on these products, they frequently are donated or made available for free.

“It’s not that we didn’t want to provide these things (to clients), we just couldn’t handle it before,” Beyer said.

The new building also has several offices available, one of which will be used for initial client interviews. Another one, located near the waiting area, will provide a private space for other nonprofit and interest groups.

For example, SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the food stamp program) may send a representative to meet with food shelf clients to discuss with them their options.

Those who work on behalf of veterans or the homeless also might want to meet with clients, Judkins noted.

Before, the food shelf had to politely decline those partnerships.

“We’ve never had a place where they could sit down and talk privately,” Judkins said.

As the food shelf prepares to relocate its operations – the lease on its current site expires Nov. 1 – Judkins said he could use some additional helping hands. Anyone interested should call him at 444-6580.

“The huge, huge issue for us right now is getting enough volunteers,” he said. “People who are interested should contact me.”