BEMIDJI -- Normally Paula Howard donates leftovers from Big Apple Bagels to the local food shelf, but since coronavirus restrictions were put in place, she hasn’t been able to.

However, with help from Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union, the restaurant owner of 10 years was back to delivering to the Bemidji Community Food Shelf on Wednesday.

Thanks to Affinity Plus’s participation in the “CUs4U” movement, their leadership ordered meals for employees working at Affinity Plus and for the volunteers and employees at the food shelf -- about 45 total meals.

“We supported a small business in Bemidji by buying lunch from them for our team at work and here for the volunteers at the Bemidji Community Food Shelf, who are also essential,” said Sarah Kuesel, manager at Affinity Plus, during the meal delivery on Wednesday.

The “CUs4U” challenge is a group of Minnesota credit unions who have supported small businesses on a local level as well as essential workers.

”We recognized that food insecurity is a big deal right now,” Kuesel said.

Chelsea DeVille, Bemidji State women’s basketball coach, carries groceries to a car while volunteering on Wednesday at the Bemidji Community Food Shelf. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Chelsea DeVille, Bemidji State women’s basketball coach, carries groceries to a car while volunteering on Wednesday at the Bemidji Community Food Shelf. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Twelve box lunches were brought over from Big Apple Bagels and each included a bagel sandwich, bag of chips, two mini muffins, an apple and a pickle.

“We’ve always donated our bagels to the food shelf since we opened our doors,” Howard said. “They can’t accept them right now, so we’re actually donating them now to the Cass Lake food shelf, which we love. I will not throw them away so we find them a home.”

Through an anonymous donor, Big Apple Bagels has also been delivering meals weekly to the hospital. But as a food shelf board member, Howard was especially happy to be delivering to volunteers on Wednesday.

“I just think it’s incredible how community-minded Affinity Plus is and donating their time, talents, resources and how great to support the mission of the food shelf during these trying, trying times,” Howard said. “And of course we appreciate them teaming with us because that helps another local small business.”

The food shelf is functioning as a drive-thru operation during the pandemic so they have different teams of volunteers working certain days.

“So today there’s five volunteers and we have volunteers distribute the boxes on Mondays and Wednesdays and then we have another really great group of First National Bank and Sanford Center volunteers assemble the boxes on Tuesdays and Fridays,” said Shannon Lee, who works for the United Way of Bemidji Area but has been filling in as the volunteer coordinator at the food shelf.

“It’s been really fun to see the community come together during this time and although it can be scary, the generosity that’s shown through it has just been really great,” Lee said about the lunch delivery.