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Donations help Bemidji Community Food Shelf

The annual Stuff-A-Truck campaign began Wednesday morning with collections from many schools in the area. Solway Elementary School second- graders Mayor Gbala, left, and MacKenzie Steinmetz carry out a box of donated items from their class for the Bemidji Food Shelf. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — For the 21st consecutive year, youngsters from local schools began the process of stuffing a truck with donations to the Bemidji Community Food Shelf on Wednesday.

More students will make donations today, and the general public will have its chance to do so on Friday and Saturday at Marketplace Food & Drug. Students have been bringing donations to their classrooms for the past few weeks.

Bemidji’s Stuff A Truck program was started in 1992, bringing in 3,000 pounds of non-perishable food items from the public. Since then, more than 215,000 pounds of food and nearly $25,000 in cash has been donated. The program is sponsored by Marketplace Food & Drug, the Bemidji Pioneer and the stations of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting.

“To me the most exciting thing about Stuff A Truck is the involvement of young people in the community,” said Bill Beyer, president of the Bemidji Community Food Shelf board of directors. “There’s a sense that even a kindergartener can say ‘I’m a part of the food shelf.’ Seeds are planted early in their lives that if we work together and care for each other it makes all things possible.”

The Food Shelf recently moved from its cramped downtown Bemidji location to a spacious facility in the Industrial Park. The building at 1260 Industrial Park Drive SE formerly housed the Occupational Development Center.

“It’s just very exciting,” Beyer said. “We’re getting used to the bigger space, and each week it gets better. One client just less than a week ago mentioned to our vice president that he was so excited because it gives him hope that he can make it through the winter. People have mentioned they feel better about coming to the new location.”

A semi-trailer parked in front of the Marketplace store will be staffed by store employees and volunteers from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. Those wishing to make cash donations or purchase $5 or $10 pre-filled bags of groceries may do so at the Marketplace cash registers. Another way to contribute is to purchase a $15 certificate for a turkey. Those certificates will be made available to Food Shelf clients to be redeemed at Marketplace Food & Drug.

“People have come in the store and donated as much as $100 to the project,” said Arlene Billberg, Marketplace store director. “They understand what it’s all about.”

Billberg was part of the team that collected food from area schools on Wednesday.

“It’s such a great experience to watch the students and know they’re helping someone else,” Billberg said.

Beyer said the Food Shelf has a special need for canned tuna, canned corn and canned pork and beans this year.

“We’re out of those in our warehouse,” he said, “and checking with the food bank or other places it’s either too expensive or they’re having trouble getting it.”