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Food Pantry donations set record

Faced with increased need and a drop in donations, the community stepped up and made this year a record-breaker for food and cash donations to the Becker County Food Pantry.

The food pantry received 77,602 pounds of food and dollars -- they are considered equal for the food pantry's purposes --following a big donation blitz in March.

Last year at this time the food pantry had collected 60,509 pounds of food and dollars.

"The previous high we had was 68,453 pounds or dollars in 2005, said Food Pantry Director Jack Berenz. "We had a good, a good year this year. We had businesses, civic groups, schools, congregations, individuals -- all of it added up," Berenz said.

Last year the food pantry received between $6,000 and $7,000 in matching funds from Hunger Solutions, a St. Paul-based organization whose members include the six America's Second Harvest food banks serving Minnesota and nearly 300 food shelves across the state.

The group has a pool of money that is divided out on a matching basis to food shelves across the state. The better the local fund-raising effort, the better the match.

Though the Hunger Solutions match applies only to donations in March, it's not too late to donate for an ongoing match program that counts donations in March and April.

The food pantry received more than $400 in matching funds last year from a $1 million annual nationwide fund donated by Alan Feinstein of Cranston, R.I.

Even without a match, the food pantry makes cash donations go a long ways. It can buy USDA products like ground beef for 10 cents a pound, Berenz said.

Other foodstuffs can be purchased for 16-17 cents per pound from Hunger Solutions' regional distribution center in Crookston.

"We make a dollar stretch as far as we can," Berenz said. "The stuff we don't buy here in town we buy through USDA or the distribution center in Crookston."

And thanks to the city of Detroit Lakes donating the use of a building and utilities, the only expenses paid by the food pantry are for telephone service and office supplies.

"We wouldn't be able to put out near the amount of food that we do if it weren't for the city's help," Berenz said. "When people give to the food pantry, they know it's going to go for food."

The food pantry recently had to cut back on the amount of food given out and the number of times per year people can use the food pantry, from five times every six months to four times.

Berenz is not sure if that will be adjusted back right away or not. It will be addressed at the next board meeting, he said. "We'll see how the year ends," he said. "To go back too fast could be a problem."

The food pantry is now sitting on 380 pounds of frozen venison donated by hunters. The meat was processed by Hoffman's and Lakes Processing, so Berenz says he has no doubt it is good to eat, but the State Agriculture Department has ordered that it not be distributed until it is tested for lead, Berenz said.

Lead bullet fragments found in venison at North Dakota food shelves sparked the Minnesota action.

All in all, Berenz said, he couldn't be more pleased with the March donation drive.

"We had a good, good year," he said. "I'm trying to get out a thank you to everyone involved."