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Building that 'bridge': Food pantry March campaign underway in Perham

The Bridge Community Pantry added a mobile pantry this year, allowing it to serve the communities of Dent, Ottertail, Richville and Vergas. (submitted photo).

Last year in Perham, the doors to the local food pantry swung open 2,000 times. Those visitors were there for a little help, a little kindness. Workers at the Bridge Pantry were there and able to provide it, thanks to community members who make it happen. This month marks go-time for the pantry and will prove critical in keeping the shelves stocked year-round.

"The March Campaign is particularly important as donations received during this period are partially matched by the state organization," said John Leikness, executive director of The Bridge Pantry. "The March Campaign encourages individuals, businesses, community organizations, faith communities, and local advocates to support the pantry during the month of March."

The pantry gave away over 150,000 lbs of food last year and expects to provide over 160,000 in 2018.

They track on a monthly basis the number of families that come through the door and 502 families made at least one visit last year. The average family size is three. Of the 502 families, 195 made only one visit to the pantry. Leikness said the number of families visiting the pantry has grown by about 8 percent each year since he's been there, but the distribution between the number of families who visit infrequently, occasionally, or frequently has remained the same.

Nearly 300 food shelves across Minnesota are ready for the annual Minnesota FoodShare March Campaign, a statewide grassroots effort to keep food shelves stocked long after the giving season has ended. During the 2017 March Campaign, Minnesota FoodShare and local food shelves raised a combined $8 million and 4.7 million pounds of food.

March has been identified by food shelf and hunger relief workers as a critical time of year. Donations to food shelves drop following the winter holidays, but there is still a need in communities.

Last year the pantry saw a need and decided to find a way to fix it; people in rural communities who couldn't make it to the pantry. They applied for a grant and used the funds to convert an ice castle into a mobile pantry.

The Bridge launched the mobile version of their pantry and now makes visits to Ottertail, Richville, Dent and Vergas.

Leikness said he and the board heard of people who needed food assistance in those areas and could not make it to Perham for reasons such as lack of transportation or pantry hours of operation.

"The interesting thing about the mobile pantry is that 75 percent of the families we serve with the mobile pantry we've never seen before, and 37 percent of those families were seniors, compared to 8 percent here, which I didn't expect," Leikness said. "So we are reaching newer families and more seniors."

Minnesota FoodShare is a program of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches. It was started in 1982 by congregations to help food shelves in the Minneapolis area, it was so successful the first year, that the following year it went statewide.

The campaign runs through the first week of April, allowing for last minute donations to be counted.

Leikness added that the community response during previous March campaigns has been phenomenal.

"Over 40 percent of the annual donations we receive happen during the March Campaign," he said.

For people wondering what to donate, the need can vary from month to month, so Leikness feels that monetary donations work best, but of course they are happy to accept food and/or dollars.

"With monetary donations we can not only purchase more goods per dollar from the Food Bank network but it also allows us to purchase those items that we might be short of in a particular month," he explained.

For anyone needing food assistance, The Bridge is open on Tuesday mornings from 8 a.m. to noon, and the first Tuesday of the month has extended hours, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Donations can be mailed to: P.O. Box 7, Perham, MN 56573 or dropped off at: The Bridge Pantry, 501 4th Avenue NW, Perham, MN, each Tuesday morning. If you have any questions, call 218-346-6181.

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