Great Plains Food Bank offers food assistance to Emmons County families
The Great Plains Food Bank’s Mobile Food Pantry made a stop at Strasburg on Thurs., Feb. 7, at the Strasburg Public School parking lot. That was the first of the four visits scheduled for 2013. Future dates are May 23, August 22 and November 21.
The mission of the Great Plains Food Bank is to end hunger through community partnerships. They believe that to create hunger-free communities, they must mobilize and extend an invitation to individuals, churches, businesses, foundations, civic organizations and government entities.
Rachel Alme, Agency Relations Specialist for the Great Plains Food Bank, said it is the only mobile hungerrelief food bank in North Dakota.
The Great Plains Food Bank staff began the conversation about starting a mobile food pantry with Strasburg Public School Supt. Mary Larson to assist those in need in Emmons County.
“This is so exciting for our community, our friends and our county,” Larson said. “This food is for anyone who needs food to supplement their daily intake. The goal is to get food to those who need it.”
Great Plains Food Bank partners with those agencies who are on the front lines of hunger relief such as food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters. They also partner with agencies, businesses and individuals who donate food, time and monetary funds. They have been working with partner agencies in nearly every county in North Dakota.
In 2008, Great Plains Food Bank staff evaluated their gaps in service. Were clients able to get the food assistance they need? How far were they driving? Was there a need for more programming in some counties? Their research led them to continually evaluate county-by-county and determine which counties needed some extra support. Emmons County was one of those under-served areas.
About half of the food in the boxes comes from food that has been donated by their business partners or by individuals, and the other half are USDA commodity goods that come from The Emergency Food Assistance Program. Along with the boxes, they also distribute whatever perishable goods they have available at the time, including fresh vegetables and fruit, bread, coffee and frozen meat. The food that is distributed through the mobile food pantry is packaged in their warehouse in Fargo by volunteers.
“We rely on these wonderful volunteers to help us in so many ways,” Alme said. “They sort, bag, box and label donated goods in the warehouse, and they meet us at our mobile sites to help distribute the food.”
Volunteers from each community partner with them to get the word out when they are coming, make sure that the site is clear of snow, help clients understand what the process is and then help give out food to the clients.
In 2012, 7,656 volunteered 14,840.25 hours to help them in their mission to create a hunger-free North Dakota. Through this collaborative effort in 2012, the Mobile Food Pantry Program was able to help people in 15 of North Dakota’s communities with 283,693 pounds of food.
In each of the communities where their mobile food pantry goes, they have established community partners who graciously share their space with them. For logistical purposes, they seek out sites that are easily accessible to clients and to their truck driver.
“In some communities, churches are our partner site, but in other communities we partner with schools, civic centers and other community entities,” Alme said.
Currently the mobile food pantry goes to several communities in the state, and every month they are delivering food to food pantries all across the state.
The Great Plains Food Bank is celebrating its 30- year anniversary this year. Food banking really came into its own in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s as severe cuts to welfare and other government safety net programs resulted in increased demand for food assistance on the local level. Food bank pioneers discovered that there were massive amounts of food going to waste between the field and the dinner table, and food banking was by far the most cost-effective means to get large quantities of quality food supplies into the hands of those stricken by poverty and hunger across the United States. Against this national backdrop, locally, the Greater Fargo-Moorhead Area Food Bank was established as a program of Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota in March of 1983.
In their first year of operation, 189,000 pounds of surplus product from the food industry was recovered and distributed to a network of 21 feeding programs in the Fargo-Moorhead community serving the hungry and homeless. Today, with the help of hundreds of food donors and thousands of volunteers and financial supporters, the Great Plains Food Bank distributes more than 11.4 million of pounds (providing for 9.4 million meals) annually to an extensive network of 263 feeding programs operating in 99 communities across North Dakota and Clay County, Minn.
“One in ten individuals residing in North Dakota seek and receive emergency food support from the Great Plains Food Bank and our partner network,” Alme said. “Thirty-five percent of them are children and twelve percent are seniors.”
That equates to 39,400 people being served on a monthly basis in North Dakota.
“When people do not have to worry about whether or not their family will have supper, they are able to focus on whatever other challenges they are facing in their lives,” Alme said. “When people with very limited resources receive some relief from needing to spend what little they have on food, they are able to put gas in their car to go to work, buy the medicine they need, pay their rent and utilities and stretch their grocery dollars further.”