Instead of spending $6 million for a new building in Crookston, North Country Food Bank Inc. has changed course and plans to spend $2.5 million to purchase and renovate an existing building in East Grand Forks.

The nonprofit food bank helps supply the Becker County Food Pantry and other food shelves across northwest and west central Minnesota.

The food bank also has decided to decline $3 million in state bonding money approved last year (which requires a 50% match) and instead use $1.5 million in donations that it has already raised for the project, along with short-term financing to cover the remaining $1 million.

The monthly cost of the financing would be about the same as it currently pays for its lease, so the arrangement would be manageable, said Susie Novak, the food bank’s executive director. Fundraising would be ongoing to cover the $1 million.

“We still intend to raise money and pay it off as quickly as possible,” Novak said. "Even though we've made tremendous strides, we still need to raise close to $1 million to reach the total campaign goal." She said contributions, of all sizes, and partner agencies can help.

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Not using state bonding money will save time and shave $1.5 million to $2 million off the cost of the project, since it comes with a lot of strings attached, Novak said. “A lot would have to change to meet state requirements,” she said. “It stipulates things like how much recyclable material is in new office chairs,” she said. Bonding money also comes with time-consuming tracking and reporting requirements, she said. By going with private money, North Country hopes to get the new facility up and running quickly. “Our goal is to be operational by the end of the year,” she said.

The building will need a loading dock, drive-in freezer and cooler space, and some interior remodeling, she said. “It has high side walls, so we can rack high (for storage),” she said.

The renovations will help North Country process and store larger volumes of food -- especially perishable food, and will allow the operation to run more smoothly and comply with safety standards set by Feeding America, Novak said.

She hopes Becker County and other counties that pledged a donation based on the original plan will allow the money to be used toward the new project. Becker County pledged $35,000, contingent on Polk County (where the food bank is located) also making a sizable donation.

Polk County officials have made verbal commitments to the project, but have not yet taken official action on a donation, she said. Since both Crookston and East Grand Forks are in Polk County (about 25 miles apart) the change of location shouldn’t affect Polk County’s support, she said.

"Our staff and board have been working hard over the past three years to plan for a much-needed new building,” said John Thorson, chairman of North Country's board of directors. “When this existing building came up for sale, we realized it was the perfect opportunity to meet our goals. It will not only allow us to improve service to those in need, but it will do so in a way that allows for the most responsible use of available resources."

The 35,000-square-foot building at 1011 11th Ave. NE in East Grand Forks is actually 5,000 square feet larger than the one the food bank intended to build. It was built in 1997 as a temporary location for Sacred Heart School after the city flooded that year. It has been partially occupied for the last several years, and became available earlier this summer.

One of five food banks in Minnesota, North Country Food Bank is the sole distributor of surplus quality food and non-food products in northwest and west central Minnesota. It serves a 21-county area that includes Becker, Clearwater, Hubbard, Mahnomen, Otter Tail, Norman, Wadena and Wilkin counties, among others.

North Country also serves the Chippewa reservations -- including White Earth, Red Lake, and Leech Lake -- that occupy some of the same geography as these counties.

Throughout its service area, North Country provides food and non-food products to its 220 partner agencies (food shelves, food pantries and other nonprofit organizations that address food insecurity) as well as directly to people in need.

Can you help?

For more information, call 218-281-7356 or visit www.northcountryfoodbank.org.