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Food pantry demand up even more

John Moran stocks the shelves at the Becker County Food Pantry earlier this winter. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

Though the need for donations of cash and food at the Becker County Food Pantry never really goes away, donations made this month are particularly impactful.

March is Minnesota Food Share Month — the time of year when the Food Pantry is awarded incentive funding from Hunger Solutions in Minneapolis, based on the total amount of food and cash donations it receives from the community between March 1-31.

All money and food donations must be collected, delivered and counted before April 1 to qualify for the incentive.

In addition, during the months of March and April, the Food Pantry also gets additional incentive funding from the Feinstein Foundation, also based on the total amount of donations received.

“This is it — we’ve got to make it count,” said Food Pantry director Jack Berenz. “The total collected right now determines the amount we get for the incentive.”

Unfortunately, Food Pantry donations tend to drop off sharply once the incentive period is over, Berenz said, so the push is on to collect enough to see them through the lean months until the holiday food drives begin.

The need has never been greater. According to Berenz, last year was busier than ever in terms of the total number of people served.

“In 2013, the Becker County Food Pantry served 5,442 families, with a total of 16,481 individuals — most of them children,” he said.

That marked an increase of 874 families from the previous year, he added.

“That’s over 2,000 more mouths to feed,” Berenz said.

At the same time, the total amount of food distributed actually went down 5,800 pounds, from 226 tons in 2012 to 223 tons in 2013.

It’s not because the demand isn’t there, Berenz continued, “It’s because we just don’t have the money to purchase the food.”

Though the community remains supportive, the funds don’t stretch as far as they used to, he added.

“The price of a lot of foods has gone up,” he said, adding, “the area where we were down the most was in the meats… sometimes the level of availability of the type of food we need just isn’t there.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and North Country Food Bank offer a discounted price of 14 cents per pound; the rest comes from Central Market in Detroit Lakes, and from community donations, including both businesses and individuals.

“We also get our milk, cheese and eggs from Cass-Clay,” Berenz said.

Because the Becker County Food Pantry is an all-volunteer organization, all money donated is used to purchase food for local distribution, he pointed out.

Community volunteers are also welcome, Berenz added. To staff the Food Pantry, about a dozen people are needed, particularly on distribution days, which fall on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12 to 3 p.m.

“We run really smoothly with about a dozen people,” Berenz said, adding that once people have filled out the necessary forms — which includes providing proof of residency in Becker County — the volunteers can “get people in and out to their cars in about three and a half minutes.”

One thing that will expedite the process even further is that starting April 1, Food Pantry patrons will no longer have to produce vouchers from Becker County Human Services in order to receive food.

“The vouchers are going away,” Berenz said, adding that this was due to a change in federal requirements.

The Becker County Food Pantry is located at 1308 Rossman Ave. in Detroit Lakes. It is open from noon to 3 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday, with the entrance located at the southeast corner of the building. Ample parking is available.

Donations can be dropped off at the Food Pantry during its open hours, or mailed to the address listed above. For more information, please call 218-846-0142.

Follow DL Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter @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