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Jack Berenz, left, Brenda North and Oliver Kendall with the Food Pantry's new truck. Vicki Gerdes/Record

Food Pantry gets truck

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Though December is typically a big month for the Becker County Food Pantry, in terms of both donations and usage, the Detroit Lakes United Methodist Church saved its biggest gift for January.

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On Thursday, Pastor Brenda North and church member Oliver Kendall presented Food Pantry Executive Director Jack Berenz with a check for $5,895, courtesy of the DLUMC congregation.

The donation represents the final payment for purchase of a Ford 350 truck, with an insulated cube box that will be used for hauling food donations from local businesses and service organizations.

"We've got a truck now, thanks to the generosity of some good people," Berenz said proudly.

Though they had originally considered getting a smaller van, Berenz said, "that would not have been as effective for us."

"This is the right tool for the job," North said.

"It's a much better deal for them," Kendall added.

Instead of needing several trips each day to pick up all of the donations, Berenz said, he should be able to pick it all up in one trip.

"It all adds up," Berenz said, referring to the cost of making multiple trips each day.

He joked that people had told him he looked like Jed Clampett from the "Beverly Hillbillies" when he was making his pickup rounds, as his Chevy Blazer was often stuffed to overflowing -- with some donations occasionally needing to be strapped to the roof of the vehicle as well.

Food Pantry volunteer Alice Hammer had a slightly different image in mind.

"It looked like the Job family from John Steinbeck's 'Grapes of Wrath,'" she said.

Those days should be in the past, however, as the truck's insulated box has sufficient room for handling even the Food Pantry's largest food donations.

"I pick up (donations) five days a week from Central Market," Berenz said, and the local Walmart Super Center is also a huge contributor.

"Last year, we received just over 110,000 pounds (in food donations) from Walmart alone," Berenz said.

That averages out to be about 10,000 pounds a month, with the largest single-day donation thus far being 2,200 pounds.

The Food Pantry also receives food donations from Barrel O'Fun in Perham as well as food drives organized by local schools, churches and service organizations.

Unfortunately, even though the amount of donations has gone up, so has the need.

Last year, the Food Pantry distributed 451,583 pounds -- just under 226 tons -- of food, and served 15,607 people.

The number of individuals and families served by the Food Pantry has almost doubled in recent years, Berenz noted; in 2005, they distributed a total of 280,571 pounds of food to 6,282 individuals.

And the need isn't slowing down any this year, if early usage numbers are any indication.

"Since Jan. 1, we've had 250 families come in, and served 787 people," said Hammer.

"There's a need out there, and that's what we're here for," Berenz said.

"The demand just keeps going up and up -- the need is overwhelming," said North -- which is why the congregation decided to step up and help them out.

"It means a lot to us, it really does," Berenz said.

He picked up the truck from Select Auto on Jan. 11. The vehicle is stored inside the Food Pantry's warehouse when not in use -- except during the Tuesday and Thursday distribution days, when it's parked outside to make room for the families who come in to pick up their food.

"We park it inside and let it sit until we have to go get some more (food)," Berenz said, noting that they store it indoors to not only to keep it warm during the cold winter months, but for safety and security reasons.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

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Vicki Gerdes
Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers and editor of MN Boomers magazine for the past 13 years. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.
(218) 847-3151
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