The Last Word - Great Plains Food Bank:
January 24, 2007
Steve Sellent, program director of Great Plains Food Bank.
Youd think that hunger wouldnt be a problem in the Northern Plains, with its ties to agriculture and food production, as well as a culture of friends and family connectedness that we like to think is stronger here than many other areas of the country.
Yet 1 out of every 8 people in our region live in poverty, and 1 in 12 North Dakotans seek food assistance each year, with 26,000 who seek emergency food assistance from charitable feeding programs supplied by the Great Plains Food Bank.
A program of Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, the Great Plains Food Bank is headquartered in an inconspicuous warehouse about nine blocks south of North Dakota State University in Fargo. Few people are aware of what goes on in this warehouse, with the exception of the volunteers who help sort food for distribution.
Inside are rows and rows of canned, boxed, and bagged food items stacked high, a large warehouse setting that brings a Sams Club to mind. It is a regional collection point where food is received from across the nation and then distributed to a network of 235 member agencies in 75 communities across North Dakota and Clay County, Minn. Over 70% of the food distributed by emergency food pantries throughout this region is supplied by the Great Plains Food Bank.
The Great Plains Food Banks is a part of Americas Second Harvest national food bank network, which involves other food banks across the U.S. This network serve as a conduit for the estimated 27% of all food produced in the U.S. that never reaches the dinner table discontinued or surplus products, off spec items, production overruns, reformulations, seasonal items, mislabled products, among other reasons for non retail and the estimated 35 million Americans which the USDA classifies as having low or very low food security.
Most of the product distributed by the food bank is in fact surplus food donated by the local, regional, and national food industry. Hundreds of companies such Nabisco, Cloverdale, Nash Finch, Cass Clay Creamery and Food Services of America donate product that is overproduced or nearing its code date. Another source is local food drives conducted by schools, churches, civic groups, and businesses.
Organized in 1983, the Great Plains Food Bank in 2005 distributed 5.64 million lbs of food in the region, valued at almost $9 million. Almost half of those served are children.
Steve Sellent, program director of the Great Plains Food Bank, says assistance needs statistics in this area are close to that of the national average. He says demand remains steady year-round, although winter brings additional hardships for some with higher heating costs, and not being able to supplement food needs with outdoor gardens.
The Great Plains Food Banks receives and distributes canned beans, as well as beans in bulk, from companies and sometimes from USDA donation programs, which are repackaged in one or two lb packages. People in rural areas, Native Americans, and immigrants are among the recipients.
Protein is one of the biggest needs for food bank recipients, yet including meat and dairy, is a food bank category that is one of the least stable with the shortest shelf life. Thats where dry beans play a key role, says Sellent. Getting protein products is a huge challenge, and dry edible beans fill a huge gap.
Information about the Great Plains Food Bank can be found online under Programs & Services at www.lssnd.org.