Food pantries have more clients and great community support

By Anna Jauhola
Kittson County food pantries have seen increased client numbers and less contact since COVID-19 began impacting the state. But, that has not deterred organizers from operating and it has not diminished supply.
The Cornerstone Food Pantry in Hallock and the Care and Share Pantry in Lake Bronson have both suspended clients the ability to individually pick out their food orders. Instead, each facility pre-packs boxes of food for pickup at the door.
Heather Peterson, director of Cornerstone Food Pantry, said this has been the biggest change for them.
“We used to allow clients to come in and choose what they need,” she said. “Then we had a shopping list each client would mark off what they needed. But then with the increase in the number of people coming in, that was no longer efficient.”
Now, Peterson and her volunteers pack variety boxes, which gives clients an assortment of food but not necessarily exactly what they’d like.
Mary Lu Stephanie, director of Care and Share Pantry, said the largest impact is her number of clients has doubled. They are also packing an assortment of groceries in boxes for clients rather than letting them choose, but her biggest concern is the possible loss of future funding.
“We are in such an awesome and generous community, we’re not struggling as bad as we anticipated,” Stephanie said. “The community has really pulled together so much to help us with generous donations of food, cash and clothes.”
However, the Care and Share Pantry relies on fundraisers, usually held in the manner of large social gatherings, to raise their typical operating funds every year. This year, Stephanie is concerned that money won’t come in.
Despite current worries, both Stephanie and Peterson remain optimistic.
Stephanie said she is still accepting donations of clothing and food, but is limiting access to the clothing portion to one person at a time. She said usually a whole family is allowed to peruse the clothing. And as an extra precaution, she has a hand sanitizer station at the door and then sanitizes doorknobs and other surfaces after a client leaves.
Peterson said Cornerstone Food Pantry is looking more for monetary donations at this time to limit contact as much as possible.
The pantries continue to receive monthly shipments of food from North Country Food Bank out of East Grand Forks. April’s shipment to Hallock brought an unusual amount of produce so Peterson and volunteers assembled care packages for a few senior housing units in the area.
“We’re trying to reach out and deliver to people who maybe can’t always get produce,” she said, noting they dropped at Hallock and Lancaster senior housing.
Stephanie said the Care and Share Pantry also received a larger-than-normal shipment this month, which worked out well with the influx of clients.
Neither director asks or keeps tabs on why people come to the pantries. Both suspect the increased numbers are due to job loss, but can’t say for sure.
“If someone says they need food, we give them food,” Peterson said.
For now, as Minnesota’s stay-at-home order and health officials’ social distancing recommendations remain in effect, both pantries are following those guidelines. Cornerstone is a little larger operation and relies on several volunteers weekly to help box food. At one point, Peterson wasn’t sure some of her regular volunteers would be able to help as they were older or had health issues. However, the community stepped up to help unload the truck in April, reorganize the pantry storage and other heavy manual labor.
“We tried to keep everybody as far apart from each other and all wore our masks and gloves,” she said. “We’re just really blessed to have the community pitching in right now.”
Stephanie echoed Peterson’s sentiments about her experience in Lake Bronson.
“I’m just so amazed with the community pulling together through all this, especially because we are such a small community,” Stephanie said. “We were really worried about what’s going to happen, but the community helped us with donations and so for now, we’re doing awesome.”

If you would like to help your local pantries and those struggling with hunger, you can mail
donations to:

Care and Share Pantry
P.O. Box 12
Lake Bronson, MN 56734

Cornerstone Food Pantry
P.O. Box 489
Hallock, MN 56728

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