Volunteers are vital for Grand Forks nonprofits to be able to remain operational in community

In addition to volunteers being the “backbone” of the organization, Grand Forks Salvation Army Maj. Paul Ferguson said they often become like a family, too

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Michele Petron, a volunteer at the food pantry at the Salvation Army, stocks shelves every Thursday and Friday. (Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald)

GRAND FORKS — For local nonprofits, volunteers are crucial to help complete some of the day-to-day operations and tasks.

“Volunteers are a big reason that we're able to do what we do,” Mickey Munson, executive director of St. Joseph Social Care, said. “We're able to allocate more of the resources that we would normally pay out in salaries back into our emergency assistance programs, our pantry, our summer lunch and stuff like that.”

Susie Novak Boelter, executive director of North Country Food Bank, also echoed the importance of volunteers.

“It has a huge impact on us and our work cause we only have 11 full-time employees working here,” she said. “Without the volunteers we would never get all our boxes packed and our bags packed and all our work done.”

While St. Joseph’s and North Country Food Bank did see a dip in the numbers of volunteers during the pandemic, both organizations have seen the number of volunteers return to around the same level as before.


Grand Forks Salvation Army Maj. Paul Ferguson said the number of volunteers at the Salvation Army haven’t quite returned to what they were before the pandemic.

“Maybe they've aged out. Maybe they found something else to do. Maybe they've discovered a hobby while they were in that downtime,” he said. “And so it's been interesting to try and recruit people back into some of the roles that they were in before.”

Some of the volunteer opportunities at the Salvation Army that have struggled to get enough people is the Red Kettle Campaign , which takes place around the holidays. The Red Kettle Campaign is one of the Salvation Army’s more visible fundraising events.

Mickey Munson is the executive director of St. Joseph's Social Care and Thrift Store in Grand Forks. (Herald file photo Joe Bowen / Grand Forks Herald)

“That’s really a crucial time for us because people don’t realize how important those kettles are,” Ferguson said. “The money that they make and the visibility of them being out there.”

In 2021, the Salvation Army had 116 volunteers for the Red Kettle Campaign while this past year there were 75 volunteers. Ferguson said when there is an empty kettle set up outside it can deter people from donating, but it can get challenging to find volunteers who want to stand outside and ring a bell when it’s cold out.

Other than the Red Kettle Campaign, volunteers at the Salvation Army can help out in the food pantry by sorting, boxing and shelving food. Other volunteer opportunities are related to the programs and services offered such as yearly school supply distributions and Angel Tree distributions.

Bob Wark, a bell-ringer for the Salvation Army
Bob Wark, a first year bell-ringer for the Salvation Army, tends a kettle outside of Cabela's in this Herald file photo from 2017. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

Volunteer opportunities at St. Joseph’s include helping out in the food pantry and the thrift store by shelving and sorting items. Other opportunities also relate to the various programs offered, such as the summer lunch program.    

At North Country Food Bank volunteers are tasked with packing boxes for food distribution, relabeling items and repackaging bulk items into family-sized bags.


For the Salvation Army and St. Joseph’s, Munson and Ferguson said they have a lot of people who have volunteered for several years. Ferguson said having volunteers that have a consistent schedule and who help out for longer periods of time is beneficial for the organization.

“I think most of us in the nonprofit field that rely on volunteers really need to have consistency with our volunteers,” Ferguson said.

While events like the Red Kettle Campaign rely on large groups of volunteers who can spend a few hours ringing bells, other daily tasks at the Salvation Army don’t require as large of a group.

Novak Boelter said North Country Food Bank can accommodate for a few volunteers upwards of a large group.

In addition to volunteers being the “backbone” of the organization, Ferguson said they often become like a family, too.

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Anthony Hebert, left, Dr. Brady Junes and Justin Stromme, prepare food for distribution in this Herald file photo from 2020. Adam Kurtz / Grand Forks Herald

“It's one of those things where you walk in and see them and it’s like just a good feeling because you know they care about the community,” he said.

All three organizations have a wide range of volunteers ranging from students at UND, employees at local businesses and personnel at Grand Forks Air Force Base.

Along with helping to complete tasks, Munson, Ferguson and Novak Boelter said volunteers help spread the word, not only of the organizations mission, but also to encourage others to get involved in the community.


“They're here for a reason. They know our mission and the impact that it has on the community,” Munson said. “The volunteers are a great resource for promoting our business, our agency, and getting (the) word out…. We are a nonprofit that operates on donations a lot. So getting the word out about what we do and our mission opens up some opportunities for us to find new donations or new donors.”

Ferguson said volunteering benefits everyone and brings the community together.

“So really, any kind of volunteering is good for everyone," he said. "It’s good for the volunteers, it's good for those that are being helped, good for the community.”

Meghan Arbegast grew up in Security-Widefield, Colorado. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from North Dakota State University in Fargo, in 2021.

Arbegast wrote for The Spectrum, NDSU's student newspaper, for three years and was Head News Editor for two years. She was an intern with University Relations her last two semesters of college.

Arbegast covers news pertaining to the city of Grand Forks/East Grand Forks including city hall coverage.

Readers can reach Arbegast at 701-780-1267 or

Pronouns: She/Her
Languages: English
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