Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published September 10, 2010, 12:00 AM

More hungry people make use of Food Pantry's services

It’s not the sort of place that draws the attention of most people – unless they need it.

By: Dave Roepke, INFORUM

It’s not the sort of place that draws the attention of most people – unless they need it.

“Our main goal is to treat them like you’d want to be treated,” said Linda Clark, coordinator of the Emergency Food Pantry in north Fargo. ‘This is not where you want your car to be seen.”

Serving Cass and Clay counties for 38 years, the Emergency Food Pantry is the longest-running of the metro area’s 17 food pantries, Clark said.

It provides families with a week’s worth of groceries up to four times a year, a cartful of food worth about $150 for larger families, and demand has been rising in recent years, Clark said.

In a 23 percent increase from 2006, the pantry gave food to 6,162 families in 2009, according to financial reports from the nonprofit. The numbers in 2009 were similar to 2008, when 6,065 families received food.

The food provided in 2009 had a cash value of more than $1.2 million, according to the financial report.

Requests increase later in the month as paychecks and food stamps dwindle. Compared to a decade ago, the traffic at the start of the month is now similar to what it used to be at the month’s end, Clark said.

The pantry relies heavily on food donations provided by area grocers and support from more than 40 area churches, schools and corporate sponsors. It runs out of a former Fargo fire station at 1438 10th St. N.

“We use every inch of it,” Clark said of the former fire hall that is filled to the brim after food drives.

Clark said the pantry has to be flexible in what it provides, because the stores of food often depend on what the week’s deliveries bring.

“Some weeks you don’t get a lot. Some weeks you do,” she said.

In addition to the in-kind donations, volunteer labor is a key ingredient for the Emergency Food Pantry. Clark said there were 7,445 volunteer hours worked last year, many in big pushes from churches and other groups.

“It’s our volunteers that really make the program work,” Clark said.

The core of the volunteer effort is the regulars who help out on a daily basis, a steady work force of about 20 – mostly seniors.

“We’re like a little family,” said Elaine Malheim, a 66-year-old widow who is in charge of assembling the “goodie bags” of nonessential foods the pantry gives out when they have them.

Malheim said she likes the “free workout” she gets from her volunteer work with the pantry, and she appreciates knowing there are limits to how often the pantry can be used. Besides the yearly limit on pantry donations, recipients must be referred by a church, social service agency or other similar institution.

Clark said it’s the only pantry in the metro area that requires referrals.

“We’re not totally enabling them,” Malheim said.

How to help

To receive food from or give food to the Emergency Food Pantry, call Linda Clark at (701) 237-9337.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535