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Grand Forks-region food shelves experience increase in visits

The food shelves that partner with North Country Food Bank are seeing a 30% to 70% increase in visits, depending on the location, says Susie Novak Boelter, executive director.

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Cordilayne Meyer, director of the Emerado Community Food Pantry, shows off pounds of onions the food pantry will distribute for Christmas dinners.
Ingrid Harbo / Grand Forks Herald
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EMERADO, N.D. – Nearing one year open, the Emerado Community Food Pantry is seeing more households coming for food, yet fewer donations.

When it opened in December 2021, 10 families came to the food pantry. Last month, the pantry served more than 40 families and distributed nearly 3,000 pounds of food, said Cordilayne Meyer, director of the Emerado Community Food Pantry.

“It really has jumped, but then also I don’t go off of income and I don’t have jurisdictional lines,” said Meyer.

Around the region, rural food pantries like the Emerado Community Food Pantry have seen an increase in visits as families are paying more to put dinner on the table.

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Second Harvest Heartland reports food shelf visits so far this year are 45% higher than the same period in 2019 and 2021.

In Emerado, Meyer keeps up with the demand by partnering with the Great Plains Food Bank, an organization that distributes food to more than 200 food pantries, shelters and soup kitchens across North Dakota. Meyer also picks up extra food from Ruby’s Pantry when the organization distributes food in Thompson, North Dakota. Donations from the Emerado-Arvilla Lions Club help too, said Meyer.

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In Minnesota, North Country Food Bank plays a similar role to Great Plains Food Bank. The organization works with 220 nonprofit organizations across northwest and west-central Minnesota. Of that total, 52 are food shelves.

The food shelves that partner with North Country Food Bank are seeing a 30% to 70% increase in visits, depending on the location, says Susie Novak Boelter, executive director. Agency partners are ordering increasing amounts of food from North Country to meet demands.

“We had two food shelves, in the same week, each order a semi worth of food, which is unheard of,” Novak Boelter said. “We’ve never had food shelves order that much before, but they are right now because that’s what they’re seeing.”

The Red Lake Falls Community Food Shelf is one food pantry in Minnesota that has seen a steep increase in the number of visits in the last year. Bev Philion, one of the food shelf’s organizers, says the number of individuals visiting has doubled from the previous two years. In 2020 and 2021, fewer people visited the pantry when they received stimulus money, she said, and the food shelf brought in around 50 people per month. Now, that number has climbed to approximately 100 people in 55 households.

The Red Lake Falls Community Food Shelf is one of the food pantries that works with North Country.

“We can offer quite a large amount of food through that, but we’ve seen an increase building back up again,” said Philion.

The increased demand for food across the region is paired with a range of other challenges for food banks like North Country. Novak Boelter says food banks are having to purchase 30% to 50% more food because fewer donations are coming in from industry partners, and that food is costing more. She says transportation costs to deliver food across the region has nearly doubled.

“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” she said. “Everything’s happening at the same time economically with food cost, gas prices, inflation and now we’re coming into the hard months where you have extra heating bills, the holiday season.”

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In Hatton, North Dakota, Hatton Helping Hands has had to purchase more food than ever before. In 2021, the food shelf spent around $2,800 on food. By the end of November in 2022, the food pantry spent more than $7,000, an increase of 154%.

Faye Duncan, the food pantry’s treasurer and manager, says the increase in spending has resulted from increased food prices and less food donated to the Great Plains Food Bank.

More families are coming to Hatton Helping Hands than last year at this time, said Duncan.

“I would say food insecurity is increasing due to the issues including current inflation and certainly the cost of food,” said Duncan. “Now I’m concerned about heating costs that people are going to be affected with.”

Novak Boelter encourages people to keep food shelves in mind through the winter, beyond the holiday giving season.

“There are still big winter heating bills,” she said. “Those are really brutal, tough times of year for people who are struggling and there are a lot of them right now.”

Related Topics: FOOD SHELF
Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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