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Bemidji calls her back: Mitchell to take the reins at local food shelf

Mary Mitchell has been hired as the new manager for the Bemidji Community Food Shelf. Currently living and working North Dakota, she’s in the process of relocating back to Bemidji, where she lived while conducting graduate work. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — Mary Mitchell was looking at houses in the area before she even applied for the position that will bring her back to Bemidji.

“I was targeting Bemidji,” said Mitchell, who attended Bemidji State University in 1995 for graduate work. “I was watching for opportunities.”

Mitchell, 58, of Bismarck, N.D., has been hired as the manager of the Bemidji Community Food Shelf.

“We’re really excited,” said Bill Beyer, president of the food shelf. “We had a lot of great candidates who applied, but as we looked at the skills and gifts they offered, Mary rose to the top.”

Mitchell, in town Thursday, has years of experience working in nonprofits, having worked for 11 years with the Dakota Resource Council, which she said helps landowners organize on a variety of issues.

“This will be very different for me,” Mitchell said. “It’s going to be very meaningful for me.”

Beyer said Mitchell is adept at computers and has experience with writing policy for nonprofits. Quipping that some existing food shelf policies are older than himself, Beyer said addressing those is a current need.

Mitchell said she wants to work in every food shelf job to learn its entire operation.

“I want to see how everything fits together,” she said.

Mitchell’s education and background is in archeology, but she changed her focus to nonprofit work once she had children. Three years ago, her nonprofit job was eliminated during budget cuts, so she has been conducting archeology work with an engineering firm.

“I really miss working in the nonprofit world,” she said. “I very much enjoy doing it and I find it really rewarding.”

Mitchell, who has two grown children, now is trying to sell her house in North Dakota and is searching for a new home in the Bemidij area. While she plans to be in her new position by early February, she expects to commute for a while. In the meantime, she’s staying with friends.

Mitchell will replace Jack Judkins, the current food shelf coordinator, who announced last year his plans to retire. Judkins, a former teacher, took the position in 2011, overseeing the food shelf’s relocation from downtown Bemidji to its much larger site in the Industrial Park.

“I’d heard about the move to the new space,” Mitchell said, noting that she was impressed when she saw it firsthand. “It’s really big, and it has such wonderful facilities, like the walk-in cooler and freezers.”

Judkins will stay in his current role as Mitchell adjusts her to new position, and even beyond then, he plans to continue as a volunteer and oversee the food shelf’s garden project and grant writing.