Food Pantry needs help this month

March 2010 was a record month for the Becker County Food Pantry -- and executive director Jack Berenz is hoping this year's annual Minnesota Food Share Month food drive is equally successful.

Don Sayer
Don Sayer helps stock the shelves of the Becker County Food Pantry.

March 2010 was a record month for the Becker County Food Pantry -- and executive director Jack Berenz is hoping this year's annual Minnesota Food Share Month food drive is equally successful.

"Last year was a great year for the Pantry," he said. "It was the biggest March we ever had."

From March 1-31, 2010, 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.

The year before, in 2009, the Pantry had fallen significantly short of 2008 totals. In fact, they had needed to decrease the amount of food put into each distribution box for several years in a row, from 2007 to 2009.

"In 2006, we averaged 42 pounds of food per person, per visit," Berenz said. "It just went down, and it went down, and it went down.


"Last year, we were back up to 40 pounds (per person, per visit)," Berenz said. "What I'm hoping is that we can continue the recovery we've had, starting last March."

Each year, all food and money donations the local Food Pantry receives from March 1-31 are added up, and the total is used to determine the incentive grants from Hunger Solutions in Minneapolis, Berenz explained.

The food drive always comes at a welcome time, as traditionally, the large amount of donations they receive during the holiday season begins to dry up in January and February, Berenz said.

"We had a good December, but in January and February, they (donations) backed way off," he added. "It's a pattern that happens every year -- that makes this month a big one for us."

All monies and food items must be collected, delivered and counted before April 1 in order to qualify for the incentive -- and every dollar and pound of food collected counts toward that total.

"Though we have no idea how much the overall pool of money (distributed each year) is, we do know that the more we raise, the more we get," Berenz said.

The percentage of food and cash they collect compared to the other 300 or so food shelves in the state determines how much they get in incentive money, he added.

Unfortunately, even though the Pantry had a record year for donations in 2010, usage also continues to increase at a record pace, Berenz noted.


"Last year, we ended up with a 30 percent increase in usage over the year before," he said. "Our total was 197 tons of food that went out from the Pantry in 2010."

Usage for the first two months of 2011 is also up from the same period last year, Berenz continued.

"Over the first two months of this year, we've had 222 individuals using the Pantry," he said. "We've also distributed 11,594 more pounds of food this January and February than we did in January and February of last year."

In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is one of the Pantry's major food contributors (offering food at a massively discounted rate compared to commercial distributors) also has a new requirement:

If the county is to continue receiving food from the USDA at the discounted rate, it will need to offer food to each person using its services a minimum of one time per month.

In 2010, the Pantry had limited its usage to 10 visits per person, per year. That amount will now need to increase to 12 visits per year.

"So there's another 20 percent increase (in usage)," Berenz said.

And there have been "a lot of new faces" among the people coming in for the Pantry's twice-weekly food distributions, he added.


"We have a lot of new faces coming in, as well as a lot of those who have been coming here for some time," said Berenz.

It's a trend he doesn't see ending anytime soon, he added.

Fortunately, the people of Becker County have a history of coming through for the Food Pantry, Berenz said

"This is one heck of a community," he added. "When they see a need, they help."

BTD Manufacturing, the Salvation Army and the United Way of Becker County are three of the biggest contributors

"We get money from them every year, through the programs they have set up," he said. "They do a nice job, all three of them."

But the biggest part of their donations, in terms of both food and volunteer hours, come from the local churches, Berenz noted.

"Our backbone over all these years continues to be our churches," he said. "They continue to realize that there are people out there who really need help, and that's what they do -- they help."


But there are many others as well: Berenz recalled one gentleman who brings in a $100 check to the Pantry every month, without fail.

"We have a tremendous community," he said.

The Becker County Food Pantry is open for distribution to needy families every Tuesday and Thursday, from noon to 3 p.m.

Berenz said that he and his staff welcome visits from the public on either of those days -- either before or after the distribution hours, when they are too busy working to be able to show visitors around.

"I like people to stop in here and see how their money is being used," he said. "They can stop in, and I'll give them the three-minute tour.

"People who give like to see what happens to their money, and they are welcome to come in and see how that money is being spent."

The Becker County Food Pantry is located at 1308 Rossman Ave., inside the Becker County Fairgrounds. It is the brown building next door to the Minnesota Flyers Gymnastics facility. Ample parking is available, and the entrance is located on the building's southeast corner.

If you have questions, or need further information, please call Jack Berenz at 218-846-0142.

A reporter at Detroit Lakes Newspapers since relocating to the community in October 2000, Vicki was promoted to Community News Lead for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and Perham Focus on Jan. 1, 2022. She has covered pretty much every "beat" that a reporter can be assigned, from county board and city council to entertainment, crime and even sports. Born and raised in Madelia, Minnesota, she is a graduate of Hamline University, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in English literature (writing concentration). You can reach her at
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