Sanford Health has donated $3 million to food banks across Upper Midwest states, including the North Country Food Bank in East Grand Forks.

The Friday, Oct. 6, donation comes as food banks across the region and nation have experienced a sharp rise in need and expenses since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The donation was split between seven food banks that cover parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

“At Sanford Health, we have always said we invest in the communities that we serve, and we have had a long-standing relationship with these organizations,” said Allison Suttle, Sanford Health senior vice president and chief medical officer, in a press release sent to the Herald. “Good health starts with good nutrition, and, when we heard about the sharp increases in demand for food, we knew we needed to step in and help.”

The North Country Food Bank in East Grand Forks serves 21 counties in northwest and west central Minnesota and the Grand Forks region. Like other food banks across the region, North Country has faced a steep increase in demand from last year, when 5.5 million meals were distributed.

"This donation really is, it's a transformation," said Anthony Hebert, development director of North Country. "Obviously, this sort of donation would always be greatly appreciated, but with everything that's going on now it's that much more impactful."

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Much is the same for the Fargo-based Great Plains Food Bank. The food bank has experienced an increase in clients facing food insecurities across the entire state. The organization has seen a 40% spike in demand compared to the previous year, which totals 6 million additional meals through its COVID-19 response effort. More than 33,000 new individuals have turned to Great Plains during the pandemic

“We all need to be good neighbors, especially in difficult times like this,” Suttle said. “We encourage our employees, and everyone in the communities we serve, to come together, support their local food banks, and by additional donations and volunteering our time, we can help eliminate hunger for those facing uncertainty during this ongoing pandemic.”

The donation coincides with the 75th anniversary of the United Nations World Food Day, which promotes worldwide awareness and action for those experiencing hunger and for the need to ensure healthy diets for all. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 2 billion people do not have access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food on a regular basis. Research by the agency shows that food insecurity is linked to health risks, including a range of chronic diseases in adults and developmental challenges in children.

In addition to food banks in East Grand Forks and Fargo, the donation was split between Feeding South Dakota, Second Harvest North Central Foodbank, Second Harvest Heartland, Food Bank of Siouxland and Food Bank of Iowa.