The Turtle Mountain Chippewa Food Pantry in Belcourt, N.D., has been given the 2020 Agency of the Year Award by the Great Plains Food Bank for exceptional work in the fight against hunger during a challenging year.

The Belcourt food bank, cited as the “innovation award winner,” is one of three in the state to receive the Agency of the Year Award, which is given to recognize the Great Plains Food Bank’s commitment to the core values of passion, service and innovation.

The Agency of the Year Award is the highest honor given by the Great Plains Food Bank, which operates through a network of 200 food pantries, shelters and soup kitchens located across North Dakota and Clay County, Minn.

The network of partners was especially critical during 2020 as the regional food bank system witnessed a nearly 45% increase in need as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Great Plains Food Bank officials say.

Leaders of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Food Pantry were recognized for “true innovation” in 2020 when the pandemic presented challenges and led to more people than ever needing food assistance, according to a news release from the Great Plains Food Bank. They “immediately transitioned to drive-up distributions to serve people quickly and safely.”

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The food pantry has become a community effort by involving volunteers from different organizations and other walks of life to help make it successful. “Jackie Giron has given many years to helping hungry families,” according to a nomination letter, “and takes the time to meet the needs of these families and children however she can.”

“During no other year in our 38-year history were our partners more crucial to our work than in 2020,” said Melissa Sobolik, Great Plains Food Bank president.

Other food banks that received the 2020 Agency of the Year Award are the Glenburn (N.D.) Food Pantry, named as the “passion award winner,” and the Abundance of Grace Food Pantry in Mandan, N.D., the “service award winner.”

The Great Plains Food Bank, based in Fargo, operates through a network of nearly 200 partners in more than 100 communities. The organization is a member of Feeding America, the nation’s food bank network.