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Great Plains Food Bank feeds hungry

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Kramers volunteer at food bank

by Luann Dart

Their stories have a common thread. The single working mother whose paycheck didn’t stretch far enough. The cancer survivor whose funds barely cover transportation to medical care hours away. The retiree who must choose between medication, car repairs or food.
     They each needed a local food pantry when their own cupboards were bare.
And it’s the Great Plains Food Bank that weaved the threads together to form a statewide network that fed them and thousands of others.
“The Great Plains Food Bank is unique in that we are the only food bank in North Dakota, so we have a pretty awesome perspective on the charitable feeding network across our state,” says Marcia Paulson, director of marketing and development for the Great Plains Food Bank.
The Great Plains Food Bank is a program of Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota and is a member of Feeding America, a nationwide food bank network. The program, in existence for 31 years, partners with more than 300 charitable feeding programs in 115 communities. Just in 2013, it provided food for a record 10.7 million meals, feeding more than 79,000 people.
Those numbers may seem staggering in a state with a strong agricultural base and a robust economy.
But statistics show that 1 in 10 North Dakotans have sought food assistance from the Great Plains Food Bank and its partner network.
These people are employed, educated, veterans or active service members, grandparents caring for grandchildren, or folks with health conditions, Paulson says.
“They are folks who are having to make very tough decisions and trade off. Do I pay for my mortgage or rent or do I buy food? Do I pay for my medicine or buy food? There are alarming statistics around the percentages of those who are making those very difficult decisions,” Paulson says.
From 2010 to 2014, the percentage of respondents who were making those types of choices increased from 32 percent to 60 percent.
The Great Plains Food Bank originated in 1983 out of another statistic. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 27 percent of all food produced in the United States never makes it to the dinner table, according to Paulson.
“We came along and said we can do something about this because there are hungry people in our communities and in our state,” Paulson says.

“Our role is to recover that surplus product from those food industry donors who have it and get it into the hands of our hungry neighbors across North Dakota and Clay County, Minn., which is our service area.”
The Great Plains Food Bank has several programs to accomplish its goal. During the first 25 years of its existence and continuing today, the food bank recovers food from the food industry and distributes it through a network of food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and low-income child care centers that feed hungry people.
Food is donated to the Great Plains Food Bank by hundreds of local, regional and national farmers, growers, manufacturers, wholesales, retailers and community food drives. Local feeding program coordinators order this food, which is then delivered monthly by the Great Plains Food Bank and distributed locally. 
The Great Plains Food Bank partners with schools and community champions to provide food for backpack programs in 24 communities.
“This is an incredibly effective program where children are given a backpack full of food, providing meals, snacks and beverages so they’re equipped with the necessary food over the weekend and they can return to school Monday morning ready to learn,” she explains.
The Great Plains Food Bank also works to bring federal programs and its programs together.
Another role of the Great Plains Food Bank is supplying food during disasters, such as flooding in Minot, Grand Forks or Fargo.
The food bank relies on the generosity of others to continue. A $1 donation provides food for four meals. All food is donated by growers, manufacturers, retailers, grocery stories, big box stores and others who donate surplus products, and 4,200 volunteers keep the program going. Since 1983, 132.7 million pounds of food has been distributed and $22.7 million worth of food was received from 275 food industry donors just in 2013.
But one person who volunteers to gather food in a food drive, opens a food pantry or offers space for a food pantry makes a difference, she says.
“We are getting much better at identifying need and getting food into the communities for people to access,” Paulson says.
“It’s the support that we get through the Great Plains Food Bank and the support of our community, that’s what makes this work. We are the village for this food pantry. Everyone takes part in it,” Urban adds.
“It takes all of us to make a difference,” Paulson says.


Luann Dart is a freelance writer who lives in the Elgin area.