Despite fewer volunteers, the Bemidji community food shelf continued its work in 2020
Last year, the BCFS distributed 826,620 pounds of food to area residents. While this is down from the 925,000 provided in 2019, it was still a significant amount given to those in need.
These efforts were celebrated on Thursday, May 20 at the Food Shelf Annual Meeting. For this year’s event, a hybrid model was used with an open house in the food department and a video from General Manager Mary Mitchell explaining highlights from the past year.
As part of the open house, guests and members of the organization’s board of directors were able to tour the food shelf building and its outdoor farm. The video, meanwhile, is available online and features a tribute to the organization’s volunteers.
A board honoring the volunteers sat next to a video showing the Bemidji Community Food Shelf’s annual meeting during their open house on Thursday, May 20, 2021. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
The volunteers who devoted their time and effort to the food department were an integral part of the past year, especially as new people were needed for the organization. Mitchell said that shortly after the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020, the food shelf lost nearly 70% of its volunteers.
“We’re running on volunteers and we wouldn’t be here without them,” Mitchell said. “It was a big change for us. We had to find a way to continue serving during this important time and to do so effectively.”
To adjust, Mitchell said Friday’s distribution needs to be cut and boxes need to be prepackaged before going out to customers in their vehicles.
“We knew we wouldn’t have the volunteer base to do it, but Centraide was a big help,” Mitchell said. “They said ‘we’ll do anything to keep you open’ which was huge because at one point I thought ‘we might have to close’.”
To fill the ranks, Centraide coordinated with some companies that had put staff on leave. These people have been invited to help out in the food department.
“It was fantastic and we designed a whole new distribution system,” said Mitchell.
In total, 12,584 households with 31,076 people were helped by the food section. In addition, the BCFS has partnered with Community Resource Connections of Bemidji to deliver over 30,000 pounds of food to high-risk seniors in Blackduck.
Along with the food distribution, the BCFS has also modernized its facilities on several occasions. A new roof valued at $ 79,000 was installed, which represents the biggest expense for the organization outside of the purchase of its current building.
The office space has also been updated with a new carpet and a new larger walk-in freezer has been installed. Kraus-Anderson Construction donated the mat and the freezer was made possible through a bequest from Merril Thiel, as well as a COVID-related grant and donations from Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union and MDU Resources.
In addition to these specific projects, the BCFS was also able to ensure the smooth running of general operations thanks to several other donations. In 2020, the food shelf had $ 631,968.44 in donations and $ 72,221.45 in grants.
“The response from the community has been amazing, we are so humble,” said Mitchell. “At first we were rushing around and there were so many unknowns, then the checks started to come in. It was just amazing. We are so grateful because it took that worry off my plate, of not having to figure out how we can go on. “
The Food Department doesn’t just add new equipment to improve its operation, the organization also brings food to those who live in rural areas of Blackduck and Kelliher. In partnership with Women United and other local organizations, The Food Shelf launched ShelfSaver, a mobile food project.
Volunteers bring food to Blackduck from the Bemidji Community Food Shelf as part of the new ShelfSaver mobile shelving program. Photo submitted.
The ShelfSaver truck will be at the North Beltrami Community Center in Kelliher from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month and at the Blackduck Free Evangelical Church from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on the third Tuesday of each month. Households will receive at least one prepackaged box of shelf-stable foods.
With the end of the mask’s tenure and other restrictions set to end in the coming months, Mitchell said the food shelf anticipates a return to more normal operations.
“We can’t wait to be there,” said Mitchell. “Giving prepackaged food is something that preceded the customer choice model. When we moved to our current building, the customer’s choice was really excited. It’s sad for us because we feel we had to take a step back with the packed boxes. , but I know we did what we needed to do during the pandemic. “
The return to normal will mark the end of Mitchell’s time with the BCSF, as she plans to retire in October. Mitchell has worked in the food industry for almost eight years.