The Becker County Food Pantry will soon be celebrating 40 years of fighting hunger in our community and with inflation at its worst in 40 years, the pantry is seeing the demand for food and supplies nearly double that of a year ago.
Compounding matters is the fact that many relief programs that were in operation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have ended.
For example, the Farm to Table project that distributed semi-truck loads of food and supplies for hundreds of families in the area is ended, a federal waiver program providing free school meals for all children—regardless of income—has expired, and Ruby’s Pantry, a monthly distribution where families paid $20 for a “share” of surplus foods has ceased operations in Becker County.
The Food Pantry’s first day in operation was July 8, 1982, with food and supplies being distributed out of the current Senior Center in the lower level of the Holmes Theater. The non-profit received its official incorporation with the State in April 1983. Much has changed since then. Clients used to have to first secure vouchers from Social Services or area churches.
Storage was limited and no produce or perishables were distributed. In 1999, the city offered use of the waterworks building as a new home for the Pantry, where they have resided ever since. The organization continued to expand in reach and services, growing a client base by more than 500 percent in the last 20 years.
Every Tuesday and Thursday from 12-3 p.m., the Becker County Food Pantry distributes carts full of groceries and supplies to households residing within the County boundaries. Often the line for food forms by 10 a.m. Some arrive on bikes. Some are homeless, living in cars. Many are families with working parents needing help to make ends meet.
The Pantry has noticed many new clients in recent months, an indication that inflation is having a marked effect. In May 2022, the Pantry distributed 35,414 pounds of food to 1,169 individuals—an increase of 600 individuals over May of 2021.
Clients are asked to bring a piece of mail with a physical address to show residence in Becker County (or if homeless, mail is not required). Obtaining a voucher is no longer required.
The Pantry plays a key role in food rescue and waste reduction. When Aldi, Central Market, or Walmart has expired products, surplus produce, and egg cartons with a cracked egg, they are donated to the Pantry, which stops by weekly to pick 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. The Pantry also purchases groceries and supplies through a contract with Central Market and through the NorthCountry Food Bank, 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 Becker County Fair Carnival collection result in many thousands of pounds of food to fill the shelves.
Volunteers make all this work possible.
In fact, over 150 volunteer hours a week are necessary for the twice-weekly distribution days and donation collection days in-between. New volunteers are needed and appreciated, especially during semi-truck 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, Executive Director at the Pantry at 218-846-0142.
The past 40 years have been a time of incredible growth for the Pantry, and this growth will continue in the next 40 years with plans for a new facility. Funded largely by a $500,000 donation of Becker County and City of Detroit Lakes ARPA funds, the current construction timeline anticipates groundbreaking in early 2023, on a lot off Terry Street on the north side of Detroit Lakes. The new facility will more than double capacity for food storage, allow handicap accessibility, and improve safety, among many other enhancements.