Holiday Train a bonanza for Food Pantry

The Becker County Food Pantry has been busier than ever this year -- but thanks to the volunteerism and support of county residents, along with some generous grants and donations, they're handling the extra workload just fine.

Accepting a $1,300 grant for the Becker County Food Pantry from the Foundation For Essential Needs' Tim Ziaja and Susan Russell Freeman, center, were Greorgia Hecock, Jack Berenz, Bunny O'Connor and Alice Hammer. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

The Becker County Food Pantry has been busier than ever this year - but thanks to the volunteerism and support of county residents, along with some generous grants and donations, they’re handling the extra workload just fine.

According to Food Pantry Executive Director Jack Berenz, the annual visit of the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train - which raises funds for local food shelves along its route - on Dec. 14 was “far and away” the most lucrative to date, in terms of both funds raised and food collected.

“The Holiday Train brought in $4,500 - that’s $500 more than they (Canadian Pacific) gave us last year -and we collected $1,710 in cash and 1,653 pounds of food,” Berenz said Monday.

He added that the change of date from mid-week to Sunday afternoon undoubtedly gave a boost to the number of people who came out to see the show.

“The only drawback to that was we ran out of hot chocolate before the train even got here!” he said with a laugh.


The need has never been greater. Berenz said that since the year 2000, the Food Pantry’s clientele has grown from just under 3,300 served to nearly 16,500 in 2013 - and it’s not slowing down any.

“We’ve got 11 months of records (for this year) that we can compare to last year, and nine of those 11 months we’ve had an increase in usage at the Pantry,” Berenz said. “We’ve been putting out a lot of food this year.”

But fortunately, Berenz has been getting plenty of volunteer help both from local churches - which supply volunteers on a monthly rotating basis - and from the community at large to help keep things running smoothly.

And in January of this year, the Pantry received a belated Christmas gift in the form of a $5,895 check from the Detroit Lakes United Methodist Church, which represented the final payment on a Ford 350 truck with insulated cube box.

That truck has made all the difference in helping to collect food donations from local businesses and service organizations in a timely manner - and to keep those donations from freezing en route back to the Pantry on particularly cold days.

“We’ve not lost anything to freezing this year,” Berenz said proudly. 

And it’s also meant fewer trips back and forth to pick up donations, he added. What used to take him three or four trips, can now be completed in one, Berenz said.

This morning (Wednesday), the Food Pantry also received another belated Christmas gift from the Minneapolis-based Foundation For Essential Needs (FFEN), in the form of a $1,300 grant that will be used to purchase a new 43x48 inch floor scale.


“This is a huge step,” said Susan Russell Freeman, a consultant with FFEN, who made the check presentation along with FFEN board member Tim Ziaja.

“You won’t believe how much of a change this will make,” she added.

Freeman speaks from experience: she is also the director of the VEAP (Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People) food shelf in Bloomington, which is the largest food shelf in Minnesota, serving approximately 9,000 people per month.

The new scale will be large enough to enable Food Pantry volunteers to weigh an entire cart full of food instead of having to individually weigh each component of the boxes distributed twice a week to patrons in need.

“You can put a cart on the scale, weigh everything at once, and out they go,” Berenz said. “It’s going to really speed up the operation here.”

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

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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