Food pantry is celebrating 40 years of serving Becker County

The Becker County Food Pantry turned 40 years old in April. A celebration is tentatively planned to coincide with the opening of its new building this fall.

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Dale Storey, current president of the Becker County Food Pantry's board of directors, helps deliver a cart of groceries to a waiting car. Storey has been a food pantry volunteer for the past four years.
Contributed / Becker County Food Pantry

DETROIT LAKES — The Becker County Food Pantry is 40 years old!

The food pantry was incorporated in July of 1982, under the leadership of Anna Haugen, Bette Kjos, Mary Alberts, Signe Youngquist, Elaine Forsell, Julie Sanders-Merritt and Jean Bauer. It was officially recognized by the state of Minnesota on April 8, 1983. Prior to that time, families in need sought help from area churches. The food pantry helped them by coordinating that effort in one location — initially, the basement of the old junior high school (now the basement of the Historic Holmes Theatre). They operated out of that facility "with one room and a donated refrigerator," according to a press release detailing the organization's history. No perishables were generally given out at that time, due to lack of storage.

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Denis Redig, "the freezer guy," has been the Becker County Food Pantry's lead frozen food volunteer for the past 10 years. When it opened in 1983, the Food Pantry wasn't able to take in any perishable goods due to a lack of storage space.
Contributed / Becker County Food Pantry

All unloading was done by hand, with everything carried downstairs to be stored. Clients had to get “vouchers” from either Social Services or from an area church to be able to utilize the food pantry. The pantry's first major fundraiser was a “Walk for Hunger,” held in the fall of 1982. A total of 250 individuals, some in wheelchairs, walked the 11 miles around Lake Detroit and raised $7,600, of which the food pantry received one-fourth to help finance the needs of the community.

Around 1999, the city of Detroit Lakes offered the use of the waterworks building where they have been ever since — but two decades later, the organization had begun to outgrow its home, and plans began to move to a new home.

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Betty Wolff runs the scale system at the Becker County Food Pantry. She's the pantry's longest-serving volunteer, with over 30 years of dedicated service.
Contributed / Becker County Food Pantry

In March, the food pantry received a $75,000 grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation that provided the final piece of funding for construction of a new building — though the bulk of it was funded by donations of $250,000 each from both Becker County and the city of Detroit Lakes (using American Rescue Plan Act dollars), along with some private donations as well.


Foltz Buildings is expected to begin installing the food pantry's new home on Terry Street sometime later this month, according to Dale Storey, president of the food pantry's board of directors.

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Becker County Food Pantry volunteers (from left) Joanne "Jo" Stenseth, Charlie Berenz and Nancy Vetter help with the organization's paperwork. Stenseth has been a Food Pantry volunteer for 15 years, Berenz for 20 and Vetter for six.
Contributed / Becker County Food Pantry

"We're just waiting for everything to dry," said Storey of the plans to finish construction on the new building. They hope to be ready to move in "by the end of November," he added.

"It will be twice the size of our current building," said Brad Carlson, the food pantry's executive director.

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Damian Zurn (at left), a 10-year volunteer, and Elaine Mack, a 5-year volunteer, load a freezer at the Becker County Food Pantry with donated bakery goods.
Contributed / Becker County Food Pantry

And it's not a moment too soon, Storey said, adding, "our numbers are really increasing."

"We're at pre-pandemic levels," Carlson said. "For the month of April, we served 469 households and 1,422 people.

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Tom Holweger, a volunteer with 10 years of experience at the Becker County Food Pantry, loads a client's vehicle with food.
Contributed / Becker County Food Pantry

"So far this year we have served 1,637 households and 4,935 people," Carlson said.

A direct comparison between January-April 2019 (pre-pandemic) and January-April 2023 statistics shows "we are at 112% of pre-pandemic families, but at 96% of pre-pandemic people," Carlson said.

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Inside the main room of the Becker County Food Pantry's current home on Roosevelt Avenue in Detroit Lakes, where volunteers organize and distribute food, and where clients can elect to come to choose among some food items. This fall, the food pantry is expected to move into its new home on Terry Street, which will have double the storage capacity of the current building.
Contributed / Becker County Food Pantry

In addition to a lack of storage space to accommodate the increased usage, the food pantry's current facility has some safety issues as well as a lack of handicap accessibility, according to Carlson.


Where the food comes from

When Aldi’s, Central Market or Walmart have expiring or damaged products, surplus produce, and egg cartons with cracked eggs, they are donated to the pantry, which regularly picks up food that might otherwise be thrown out. Along with KFC and other local restaurants and stores, the pantry averages over 10,000 pounds of rescued food from retailers each month, according to a food pantry press release.

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Brad Carlson, Becker County Food Pantry executive director, says that pantry usage is now reaching pre-pandemic levels.
Contributed / Becker County Food Pantry

The Pantry also purchases groceries and supplies locally and through the North Country Food Bank in East Grand Forks, which facilitates deliveries of federally subsidized foods for as little as 10 cents a pound. Donations of non-perishables and fresh produce from the public are also sorted and distributed to those in need. Large donation events, such as the upcoming Becker County Fair Carnival collection result in many thousands of pounds of food to fill the shelves.

The outside of the Becker County Food Pantry, which has seen strong demand growth in recent years.
Nathan Bowe / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Like the Pantry's founding ladies, volunteers make all this work possible. In fact, over 150 volunteer hours a week are necessary for the twice-weekly distribution days (Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12-3 p.m.) and donation collection days in between. New volunteers are needed and appreciated, especially during semitruck unloading days and for jobs requiring heavy lifting. Volunteers may choose to be on-call or commit to a set schedule. Anyone interested in learning more can call Brad Carlson, food pantry executive director, 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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