"It was a long month -- but a good one for us."
So said Jack Berenz, president of the Becker County Food Pantry, in an interview earlier this week.
Berenz was talking about the fact that March was Minnesota FoodShare Month -- the time of year when the local Food Pantry receives incentive grants based upon the combined amount of dollars and food donations collected during the course of the month.
Last year, the Food Pantry did not reach its goal for the March fund-raising drive. In fact, Berenz said, "We were down quite a bit (from 2008 totals)."
This year, however, they rebounded -- in a big way.
"We had a record year," Berenz said. "It's the best year we've had, no two ways about it."
From March 1-31, the Becker County Food Pantry collected 13,923 pounds of food and $79,579 in cash -- for a combined total of 93,502 in both dollars and pounds of food.
"We went up approximately 5,000 in dollars and pounds over last year's total," Berenz said. (The Food Pantry collected 88,402 combined dollars and pounds in 2008).
And while they don't yet know how much they will get from Minnesota FoodShare in incentive money for 2010, Berenz is confident that the food boxes distributed to Food Pantry users will continue to be larger than they were the previous year.
"We've been able to increase the weight of the boxes we put out for families this year," Berenz said. "That's kind of a nice feeling."
Donations for the food drive came from all over: Benefit concerts held specifically for the Food Pantry, a "Stuff-A-Truck" benefit held by Trinity Lutheran Church, an online auction held by Becker County employees, and much more.
"Help came from all over," Berenz said. "Churches, civic organizations, businesses, schools, individuals and more."
Berenz said the number of donors listed on his report for the March food drive was unusually long.
"There are a lot of pages here," he said, flipping through the list of donors. "And we're very appreciative of that.
The biggest problem they have right now, Berenz said, is finding the time to unpack all the food donations they've received and repack them in boxes for distribution to the families that come into the Food Pantry every Tuesday and Thursday for assistance.
"We've really had a tremendous month," he continued. "We're going to be better off this year than we've been in the last two or three years -- and it's due to the people of Becker County coming through for us.
"All I can really say is, 'Thank you very much.'"