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Jack and the beanstalks, the bread, the breakfast cereal...: Judkins looks back on leading the food shelf

Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer Jack Judkins, Bemidji Community Food Shelf coordinator, restocks shelves at the center. He said demand continues to grow for the food shelf’s services.1 / 2
Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer Jack Judkins helps clients at the Bemidji Community Food Shelf. Judkins plans to step down as coordinator later this year and focus on the community garden project.2 / 2

After decades as a teacher in Bemidji, Jack Judkins retired in 2010.

Then he went to work.

Judkins became coordinator of the Bemidji Community Food Shelf in 2011, and oversaw the nonprofit’s move from cramped quarters downtown to their warehouse-sized building in the industrial park.

Now, Judkins says he’s finally ready to take it a bit easier. He plans on stepping down as coordinator to focus on the food shelf’s new garden project and grant writing.

“I need to be more retired than I am now,” he said.

Moments after welcoming the newest volunteer to a pool of about 300 people last week, Judkins talked about his time as coordinator and the qualities he’d like to see in whomever eventually replaces him. The target date for the switch is sometime at the end of the year.

Judkins said he applied to be coordinator of the food shelf when he became restless in 2011, about a year after his retirement as a teacher.

“At that time, we were still downtown,” he said of the food shelf.“The challenge they laid out for me when they hired me was, ‘We tried to move, we have not been able to make it happen, that’s the top priority for you coming in here; is to get us into a place where we can survive.’”

After less than a year, the food shelf was in new building better suited to the task of serving approximately 38,000 people in need.

“To tell you the truth, I was very surprised at how things just fell into place,” Judkins said.

According to Food Shelf Board President Bill Beyer, however, things didn’t just fall into place. Beyer was confident moving to the bigger building never would have happened had it not been for Judkins.

“I can’t say how valuable he is,” Beyer said. “He’s just an incredibly talented individual, very compassionate about people in this community.”

Judkins said any new coordinator should understand the stakes of what food shelves do.

“There’s a lot of irony in the food system in our country. There’s a lot of food, but we have close to 50 million people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” he said. “It’s going to take… a person with a passion for these issues, who’s willing to learn about hunger in America.”

Another essential requirement for the job is the ability to find balance.

A typical day for Judkins involves everything from monitoring donation funds to tracking down a missing shipment of peanut butter that never showed up.

“You have to be able to stay even-keel,” he said.

Although he’s taking a step back, Judkins still plans on a sizeable workload as he tries to get the food shelf’s expansive new fresh produce garden up and running next year.

Since the program will be funded entirely by grants, Judkins has a lot of application-writing ahead.

The garden idea is overflowing with potential, he said.

“We hope this is going to be a model project for food shelves around the upper Midwest,”    he said.

Judkins said memories from his time as coordinator will stick with him, particularly the love the shelter has gotten from the people of Bemidji and the surrounding area.

“I think it’s the most interesting job I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot of jobs,” he said. “What I’m going to take with me from this experience is the tremendous support the community has for what we do. The fact that we were able to do this is a testament to the community.”

To donate to the food shelf or to learn more about how to volunteer, visit their website at

Zach Kayser
Zach Kayser covers local government and city issues for the Pioneer. He previously worked for the Wadena Pioneer Journal, and is an alumni of the University of Minnesota, Morris. 
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