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Food Pantry can’t keep up with need

The Becker County Food Pantry has been kept busy collecting donations this holiday season, with fundraisers such as the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train bringing in thousands of dollars and truckloads of food.

“We got a $4,500 check from Canadian Pacific that night, and we also collected $921 in cash and 475 pounds of food,” said Food Pantry director Jack Berenz.

The sixth grade students at Detroit Lakes Middle School also held a successful fundraiser for the Food Pantry this fall, collecting $1,595 in cash, and several area churches have chipped in between $500 and $1,000 each, he added.

Unfortunately, the food has been going off the Food Pantry shelves as quickly as it stacks up — and the need doesn’t end once Christmas is past.

“We have had an increase in families that are coming to the Food Pantry in eight out of 11 months (compared to the same time last year),” said Berenz.

While the total numbers aren’t in for December yet, he added, “Last week we had 130-some families come in during those two days (Dec. 17 and 19, when the Pantry was open). That’s a lot of people. And it’s just continuing to grow.”

Then there is the fact that while the Food Pantry has access to food at a greatly reduced price compared to the general public, those prices have gone up in the last few years — which means that the money donated to purchase those foods doesn’t go as far as it once did.

Of course, this also means that food prices for the general public have also gone up, so more and more families are finding it difficult to make ends meet.

“The money that some people get just doesn’t stretch far enough anymore,” Berenz said, which adds up to more people needing the Food Pantry’s services than ever.

Despite the influx of donations in both cash and food that the Food Pantry receives during the holidays, the increased need has caused the total amount of food distributed to families in each box to be reduced by five pounds during the months of November and December, Berenz said.

“Hopefully, the economy is eventually going to get better,” he added, which should likewise correspond to a decline in the number of families needing the Food Pantry’s services.

But the need will never completely go away. “For every 100 people who come in here, there are 100 different stories of why they need help,” Berenz said.

This means that the need for donations will also remain steady, as will the need for volunteers to stock food, distribute it and keep track of the donations as they come in.

Though the Food Pantry is only open to the public for two days a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12 to 3 p.m., Berenz and his staff of 10-12 volunteers are often there up to five days a week.

“One thing we’re proud of is that once the paperwork is done, from the time a person comes in to get their food until they’re out and on their way home is about 3½ minutes,” Berenz said. “Often times we serve over 20 people an hour.”

Though the work is often quite taxing, he added, it’s also worth the effort when they see the looks on the faces of the recipients.

Berenz recalled one time when one of the people who came in for help took one look at all the food in the box, said “Is all that for me?” and burst into tears when he was told the answer was yes.

“It kind of makes you feel good that you can do that for somebody,” Berenz said.

For more information on how you can volunteer for, or donate to the Becker County Food Pantry, please call 218-846-0142. Donations can also be dropped off at the Food Pantry, or mailed to: Becker County Food Pantry, 1308 Rossman Ave., Detroit Lakes MN 56501.

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

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454