BEMIDJI -- The annual March FoodShare campaign, which provides a partial match to Minnesota food shelves for donated funds and food, has been extended through April 30.

The Bemidji Community Food Shelf participates in the program each year, which is put on by Minnesota FoodShare and Greater Minneapolis Community Connection.

The campaign was extended due to the immense load food shelves have taken on during the current state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic. The added needs have been seen state-wide by the GMCC.

“It's really good for us and food shelves around the state,” said Mary Mitchell, Bemidji Community Food Shelf executive director. “It gives us the chance to raise more money so we can continue to help our community as food needs continue to increase.”

Minnesota FoodShare Program Manager Summer Anthony said that, for many food shelves throughout the state, the March Campaign donations account for a large portion of organizations' annual giving. Community businesses and organizations usually hold annual food and fund drives, as well as many fundraising events.

Anthony explained that they want the annual campaign to be helpful, so they decided to extend the campaign to allow food shelves time to respond to immediate needs and give community supporters a chance to adjust their fundraising efforts.

"As COVID-19 began to affect Minnesotans and social distancing and the stay-at-home order took effect, it was clear many fundraising efforts would have to be canceled or altered," Anthony said in an email to the Pioneer. "Additionally, food shelves in the Twin Cities metro area began to immediately see an increase in usage, with some reporting double to triple the number of visits they usually support this time of year."

Mitchell said that in the past couple of weeks, the Bemidji Community Food Shelf has served around 45% more households than they typically would.

“In our first four days of (parking lot) distribution we served 450 households. We're expecting this to increase as more and more people lose incomes in the coming weeks,” Mitchell said.

Since the pandemic forced the food shelf to close its doors to the public back in mid-March, volunteers and staff provided by the United Way of Bemidji have been packing an average of 165 food boxes for distribution on Monday and Wednesday each week. Mitchell said that a decision may be made later this week about increasing the number of boxes.

"We track the amount of donations that come in during the allotted time, then report those numbers to campaign organizers," Mitchell said. "This year we are encouraging monetary donations, because it's very difficult for us to take food donations right now. Primarily because we do not have the staff or volunteers required to handle large quantities of food donations at this point."

Following the campaign, food shelves will receive a proportional match for the dollars and pounds of items they collect during the campaign, distributed by the Minnesota FoodShare March Campaign FoodFund. The funds consist 100% of donations received by Minnesota FoodShare during the length of the campaign.

"As organizations are adjusting their distribution models, working with fewer volunteers and staff, and providing increased food and supplies to more neighbors, many have shared donations that have slowed," Anthony said. "We encourage Minnesotans, as they are able, to give financially to their local food shelf and Minnesota FoodShare to help ensure food shelves can continue to support strong communities throughout Minnesota."

Currently, the Bemidji Community Food Shelf is offering parking lot distribution each Monday and Wednesday starting at 10 a.m. and continuing until all food boxes are gone.

For more information on the food shelf, visit https://bcfsmn.org or call (218) 444-6580.

To learn more about the FoodShare program, visit mnfoodshare.org/marchcampaign. To donate, visit mnfoodshare.org/donate.