Grand Forks' Northlands Rescue Mission sees increase in meals being distributed, but decline in food donations
On Monday, Sept. 26, 272 meals were given out to the public.
GRAND FORKS – Northlands Rescue Mission has seen an increase in the number of people relying on the mission for food, but the supply of food in the mission's pantry has declined.
Sue Shirek, executive director of Northlands Rescue Mission, said while the amount of people staying in the shelter hasn’t gone up, the number of people coming to get meals has.
“The numbers of people seeking food assistance are going up and the amount of food resources available for the food pantries across town to meet the needs of those people is significantly diminished,” Shirek said.
The mission serves two meals to the community seven days a week, at noon and 5 p.m. Breakfast is available for those staying in the shelter.
Local resident Keith McKeever, who goes to the shelter for meals, said he enjoys the food, but wishes people could still eat inside. Since the pandemic, meals distributed to the community have been served on a to-go basis.
On Monday, Sept. 26, 272 meals were provided. Shauna Lorenzen, the kitchen manager, said that number is generally the new average. At the beginning of the month Lorenzen said, there’s usually a lower number of people stopping by to get a meal, but near the end of the month there’s an increase in the number of meals being served.
Lorenzen, who has worked at Northlands for almost four years, said staff members have had to prepare a lot more food in order to keep up.
“If we think we have enough, we probably don’t,” Lorenzen said.
The mission primarily gets food from a program called Retail Rescue, which allows local food pantries to take food items that are about to expire at local grocery stores. In addition, food donations come from local restaurants and churches.
“You've got to take all those things put together and you figure out what you have and what you can share out with the general public and what you need to cook the meals for the people that come to the door every day,” Shirek said.
Cooking close to 300 meals a day means staff need to get creative and know how to cook in bulk and from scratch.
“Those two things are skills that not everybody has,” Shirek said. “It’s knowing how to take what’s there and make soup or hotdish or whatever with very little added to it because we don’t go out to the grocery store and buy a whole bunch of stuff.”
With the larger number of meals being served and inflation raising the price of food items, costs are rising. Shirek said when she started working at Northlands Rescue Mission in 2017, the annual budget for purchasing food was around $1,600. Now that is the price of purchasing food on a monthly basis.
Food donations have been down. Shirek said the food pantry is empty, which has had an impact on the food boxes that are distributed five days a week.
“To have a substantial food box to put together that really is going to carry people over for a week or a week-and-a-half, it’s hard to put that together,” Shirek said.
The mission also works to ensure people are finding a place to live in the community. Shirek said it is working on leasing available apartments in town where families experiencing homelessness can stay.
Another local organization addressing homelessness in the Greater Grand Forks area is United Way of Grand Forks, East Grand Forks & area. One of the programs offered is the Families First Program, which started in the fall of 2020. It provides services for families with children under the age of 18 living in the home, including emergency shelter, housing and utility assistance and case management services. It also connects families with community resources to establish long-term housing solutions.
Executive Director Heather Novak said the number of families needing emergency housing hasn’t been higher than last year, but there has been a rise in people needing rent and utility assistance. She said 206 families received assistance from the program in 2021.
Additional programs by United Way address childhood hunger and other basic necessities for kids. The Backpack Program provides food for low-income students in the East Grand Forks School District, East Grand Forks Head Start Program, Grand Forks Head Start Program, Larimore Elementary School and the SAIL Program through the Grand Forks Public School System. Single-serve meal donations are accepted along with individually wrapped peanut-free snacks.
Kidz Closet provides children with basic necessities such as clothing, hygiene products and school supplies. Novak said the Kidz Closet is being expanded beyond the Greater Grand Forks area to include locations in the surrounding communities. Donations of gently used items and hygiene products are accepted for this program.
And the Winter Wishlist program is coming up this holiday season. United Way collects new toys, games and gift cards for children of all ages to be given to families in need.
Monetary donations to assist with the operations of these programs are accepted by United Way. They can be mailed to 1407 24th Ave S. Suite 400 Grand Forks, ND 58201 or online at https://www.givegfegf.org/give .
Shirek said Northlands Rescue Mission accepts donations in the form of money and physical food items.