New program brings Thompson 20,000 pounds of food that otherwise would have gone to waste
For $22, families can get a share of food equivalent to $200 worth of groceries, with a variety of products like meat, fresh produce, cereal, snacks and baked goods, through Ruby's Pantry.
THOMPSON, N.D. — A new program in Thompson brings faith, community and sustainability together in the form of 20,000 pounds of food.
In November, St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in Thompson started hosting Ruby’s Pantry, a monthly pop-up food pantry program that sends families home with hundreds of dollars of food that otherwise would have gone to waste.
For $22, families can get a share of food that Chelsea Lupien, Thompson site director, estimates to be equivalent to $200 worth of groceries. Each share is about a cart full of groceries, and has a variety of products like meat, fresh produce, cereal, snacks and baked goods.
Lupien found out about Ruby’s Pantry approximately two years ago through social media. The closest Ruby’s Pantry locations are in Fargo and Moorhead, but Lupien wanted to bring the program closer to home. The first pop-up pantry was held on Nov. 18 and sent food home with more than 200 families.
Ruby’s Pantry is an operation of the nonprofit Ruby’s Heart Ministries, based in North Branch, Minnesota. The organization teams up with Christian organizations, like churches, to host pop-up pantries and deliver corporate overstock food to communities primarily in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Fargo and Thompson are its only North Dakota locations.
The food comes from food manufacturers, distributors and producers that have extra food that is edible, but would otherwise be thrown away.
“A lot of times stores will pull food once it’s close to its 'best by' date,” said Lupien. “So that food is still good and they then either donate it out or, unfortunately, it gets thrown away. So that’s kind of where this organization has been able to bridge that gap a little bit.”
Lupien said companies like Sara Lee, Target and Walmart, along with local grocery stores near the Twin Cities, are regular donors to the program.
Unlike many food pantries, there is no income or residency requirement to participate in Ruby’s Pantry, so anybody can participate. Lupien says the program can be a way for low-income families or people who use food assistance programs like SNAP to get a variety of foods, but it was not created specifically for any income level or economic status.
“Ruby’s Pantry isn’t specifically for people in need. It’s really for anybody who eats that wants to stretch their grocery budget,” she said.
Anybody who pays the donation fee gets food, and if a family cannot afford to pay $22, Lupien says organizers donate the food anyway.
“We always just donate those shares out to people. We would rather see people get the groceries that they need than retain that fee since it is a nonprofit,” said Lupien.
Most of the $22 donation helps cover the cost of transportation and sorting the food, but each location sponsor keeps 10% of the money to give back to the community.
Volunteer Travis Johnson thinks Ruby’s Pantry helps eliminate some of the stigma associated with food pantries, while also raising awareness about food waste. He volunteered at the first pantry along with his wife and five children, ranging in age from 3 to 18.
“It’s crazy the amount of food they’ll throw from somewhere,” said Johnson. “A semi load of food was going to go into the garbage if it didn’t get taken.”
As the father of five, he has a hard time wrapping his head around food waste on the production and distribution ends of food systems, as feeding a family of seven gets expensive. His family took advantage of the pantry and took a share of food home with them.
“There was no way that we weren’t going home with food,” said Johnson. “It’s super good stuff, and there’s definitely something in there for everybody.
Lupien said the second date in December saw fewer families than the first, but all the shares of food still went into communities in northeast North Dakota. After the Dec. 13 pop-up pantry, the remaining shares of food were donated to MAK Construction for its holiday food drive and Northlands Rescue Mission, which it took to its mobile food pantry in Pembina, North Dakota.
She hopes by spring, enough families will come to the pop-up pantries to take all of the 400 shares.
Johnson and his family missed volunteering in December because of a busy holiday season, but he says they loved their first volunteer experience and will be back in January.
“I’m pretty sure we’re on the hook forever,” said Johnson, laughing. “But there are worse things to be obligated to do.”
Going forward, the pop-up pantry will be at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church every third Thursday of the month from 5:30 to 7 p.m., with the next one on Thursday, Jan. 20. More information on pop-up pantries in Thompson and volunteer opportunities can be found on the Ruby’s Pantry - Thompson, ND Facebook page.