After years of planning, The Bridge Community Pantry has unveiled a complete overhaul.

The process started six years ago, when The Bridge’s board of directors made an effort to expand their outreach.

Now, after years of earmarking funds and securing grants, The Bridge’s building renovation is complete.

Executive Director John Leikness said the renovation started when a five-year plan predicted the food shelf would run out of room around this time.

The $140,000 project was made possible through securing grants and significant donations from community members.

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That money has gone a long way toward updating The Bridge’s building from top to bottom, aesthetically and functionally. A new coat of paint and a waxed floor are just the beginning.

Display freezers and refrigerators donated by KLN complement a pair of new walk-in freezers and refrigerators which are mounted outside to make more room for storage.

Fresh produce is now kept in a produce cooler provided by a grant from Partnership for Health.

Industrial looking racks of shelves were replaced with product shelves acquired from Shopko to further enhance shoppers feeling of being in a regular grocery store.

The new shelves now run perpendicular to the light fixtures, making sure every aisle is evenly lit.

Leikness anticipates the renovation will be able to more than double The Bridge’s traffic, through expanding hours and possibly adding more days to the schedule.

After the renovations debuted to the public Tuesday, Aug. 13, volunteers heard nothing but positive compliments.

“It’s so much fun to walk in here,” volunteer Joan Kaelberer said. “It doesn’t look like a warehouse anymore.”

Leikness said all credit goes to the Perham Lions Club, which built the building in 1995 after its initial drive. When the Lions decided to move out of the garage area of the building last year, The Bridge moved ahead with a contractor immediately.

Heating, air conditioning and insulation were all added to the garage to make it a full time storage warehouse. A donated forklift also helps with bulk shipments.

The new warehouse setup allows storage room for bulk donations, an option that wasn’t previously available.

The Bridge’s warehouse will also host weekly produce sales, which are open to the public every Monday morning, and regularly sell 20,000 pounds of product.

Even with such a large expansion, The Bridge isn’t at risk of growing faster than its volunteer force.

“We’re so blessed with volunteers,” Leikness said.

When the pantry itself isn’t open, a team of over 40 volunteers work throughout the week to pick up produce and baked goods from local retailers, as well as unloading trucks and keeping the warehouse stocked and organized.

Leikness says a hiring process was another initiative spelled out by the board six years ago. Now when someone signs up to volunteer, they’re provided detailed descriptions of every opportunity and can choose the job that’s right for them.

Another result of the outreach initiative is the mobile pantry, which regularly travels to Richville, Ottertail, Vergas and Dent. The Mobile Pantry had 235 visits so far this year, with senior citizens accounting for 30% of those visits, according to Leikness.

From January to June this year, The Bridge saw a 15.8% increase in visits from the same time last year. Leikness says much of that increase is due to the mobile pantry.

Volunteer Tim Kaspar said these projects have been made possible through progressive and supportive leadership.

“It’s energized new things and brought it to another level,” Kaspar said.

More info

WHERE: The Bridge Community Pantry, 501 Fourth Ave. NW, Perham

MAILING: PO Box 7, Perham, MN 56573

PHONE: 218-346-6181

ONLINE: www.thebridgepantry.org