BEMIDJI -- In nearly eight years as executive director of the Bemidji Community Food Shelf, Mary Mitchell has gained an appreciation for the organization’s impact on people’s lives.

“Hearing stories from our interviewers makes me even more grateful that we’re able to do what we do here,” said Mitchell, who is retiring later this month. “No matter what’s going on in someone’s life, helping them with food is a huge stress reliever to them.”

For Mitchell that really hit home a few years ago when she and a food shelf customer were being interviewed on the radio. The customer talked about the anxiety and stress she felt when she was running out of money and food. “And then I realize I can go to the food shelf because I haven’t been there this month,” the customer said.

“What a wonderful thing it is to be able to relieve at least some stress that people have around food,” Mitchell said. “Stress leads to chronic health conditions and exacerbates existing conditions. So if you can help relieve someone’s stress, what a great thing that is.”

She also appreciates how the food shelf has helped some escape the throes of poverty. She recounted a time when a woman came in to pick up food for her two adult children who were students at Bemidji State University. Both students had families, and both needed help with groceries.

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“One of the students told me, 'We maybe could have made it through school without the food shelf, but having this made it so much more doable for us to attend school and still feed our families,'" Mitchell said. "And now they’ve graduated and they’re working in the community. To be a part of that is really special."

Jim Fretheim, president of the BCFS board of directors, said Mitchell has been a wonderful and effective leader for the organization.

“She has done an outstanding job,” Fretheim said. “The food shelf, like the rest of the world, has gone through all these changes, especially in the last couple of years. She’s well connected in the community. She has made friends with a lot of people and that’s really been helpful for our work.”

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Mitchell will work for a couple of weeks as newly hired director Michael Olson begins his transition into the role. His first day will be Monday, Sept. 20. A reception for Mitchell will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 17, at the Bemidji Community Food Shelf, 1260 Exchange Ave. SE.

“We invite the community to stop by the food shelf and thank Mary for her leadership during these past eight years,” Fretheim said.