Filling a need in the community

With recipients already waiting outside half an hour before distribution, volunteers organized food at a Thief River Falls Area Food Shelf distribution Thursday, July 21.

by April Scheinoha

    Last year, more than 40,000 people received food distributed by North Country Food Bank in Crookston. They were struggling to put food on the table, and they may be your neighbors, your friends or your coworkers.
    “Could we do more? Absolutely,” said Executive Director Susie Novak.
    North Country held a Lunch and Learn event about its organization Thursday, July 14 at Black Cat in Thief River Falls.
    North Country distributes food to 220 charitable organizations in 75 communities in 21 counties. It is the third largest food bank in Minnesota. The Twin Cities and Rochester food banks are larger. Novak said that children account for 40 percent of all recipients needing emergency food help in Minnesota. Thirty percent are seniors.
    In 2015, North Country distributed about seven million pounds of food in northwest and west-central Minnesota. That amounted to more than 5.68 million meals provided to such places as food shelves, senior programs, abuse shelters and soup kitchens. Novak said North Country provides 70 to 90 percent of the food distributed by most of those organizations.
    In Thief River Falls, North Country distributes food to the Thief River Falls Area Food Shelf, Falls DAC, the Occupational Development Center, Skylite Apartments, Riverside Terrace and other locations.
    “It’s about getting food into the hands of people who need it,” Novak said.
    Every dollar donated to North Country or the Thief River Falls Area Food Shelf is enough to feed five people.  “When you go to the grocery store, you can’t do that,” said Novak, who noted 96 cents of every donated dollar goes toward feeding people.
    North Country knows there may be more people who need food. Due to the volume of food distributed out of its building, North Country is seeking funding for a new facility in Crookston. “We want to grow to be able to do more than seven million [pounds of food],” Novak said.
    Novak added that North Country would like to be able to distribute food at clinics and hospitals. It would also like to distribute food at more schools.
    North Country is in contention for $3 million in state bonding proceeds. Novak said the request was in both the House and Senate versions of the bill. However, the bonding bill hasn’t passed. If that request were approved, North Country would still need to raise more than half of the funding for the facility.
    The Thief River Falls Area Food Shelf also seeks help in terms of a location. The Food Shelf hasn’t had a permanent location for four years. Twice a month, it distributes food out of the National Guard Armory in Thief River Falls.