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Food shelf asks for donations

Max Boyer, right, a volunteer with the Bemidji Community Food Shelf, helps a client box her food selections Friday. March is Minnesota FoodShare Month so staff, well aware of tighter home budgets, is hoping for continued community support of the food shelf mission. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – March typically brings in one-third of the income needed to operate the local food shelf.

With unprecedented numbers of clients turning to the Bemidji Community Food Shelf for help, staff hopes the community continues to support its mission.

“If you’re having to choose between heat, medication or food, that’s why we’re here. Nobody should have to go without food,” said Bill Beyer, chairman of the food shelf board. “But we can only do it when the whole community supports us and continues to be as generous a community as it has in the past.”

March is Minnesota FoodShare month, the largest campaign of the year that strives to restock nearly 300 food shelves across the state. The campaign also provides a 10 percent match to financial donations to the local food shelf.

The Bemidji Community Food Shelf this month has a goal of collecting $85,000 and 60,000 pounds of food.

In 2012, it served 9,800 households, providing food to 33,000 individuals, 40 percent of whom were under the age of 17, Beyer said.

Those figures represent a 22 percent increase from 2011, which itself was a record-setting year, according to food shelf records.

“Given the high demand and increasing prices for food, this March is the most important fundraising month in our history,” said Jack Judkins, food shelf coordinator, in an email to the Pioneer.

This year, the food shelf is on pace to top numerous records. Through February, it provided clients with 111,000 pounds of food, Beyer said. The food shelf distributed 504,000 pounds in 2012 and 379,000 pounds in 2011.

Food shelf clients can visit once a month. Judkins reported that just 6 percent came every month in 2012.

“Families received enough food each visit for nine or 10 meals,” he said. “The food shelf was truly an emergency service.”

The food shelf has taken steps to stretch its budget. Its relocation last year to the Bemidji Industrial Park provided more space, so the food shelf was able to obtain a state certification allowing for the repackaging of bulk foods.

Now, the food shelf can accept pallets with 2,000 pounds of elbow macaroni and have volunteers break it into 1-pound packs for distribution.

It’s much cheaper, Beyer noted.

“We couldn’t have done that in the other space,” he said. “We just didn’t have the space.”

The best-case scenarios involve donated foods, he said, highlighting 10,000 pounds of potatoes recently received from a farmer in East Grand Forks.

“All we had to do was go get them,” Beyer said.

The new location boasts a warehouse with ample space to provide cold storage, allowing “gleanings” such as vegetables and fruit to stay fresh longer.

It also has space to store bulk deliveries, such as 40,000 cans of label-less whole kernel corn recently purchased for 33 cents a can.

“Whole kernel corn is one of our staples,” Beyer said, explaining that if it was creamed corn, the food shelf might have passed on the offer. “Whole kernel corn is a favorite vegetable.”

Now, with the new site, the food shelf operates a “store,” offering shelves full of offerings for its clients. Rather than getting a bag of pre-selected foods, clients are given shopping lists.

“(Clients) now can choose themselves if they want peas or green beans,” Beyer said.