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The Outreach Program volunteers pack 1 million meals in 2020

Founded in 2012, The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes is a humanitarian food aid organization with a packaging facility in Nisswa.

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Volunteers Tessa (left), Ava, Bennet, and Braden Capelle work together to fill bags with the ingredients for Spanish rice Monday, Dec. 21, at the Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes in their Nisswa headquarters. The nonprofit reached a milestone after packing over 1 million meals this year. Despite the pandemic, the group packed the most in one year for the charity. Last year they packed 402,000 meals. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes reached a milestone Monday, Dec. 21, in packing 1 million meals in 2020.

Founded in 2012, The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes is a humanitarian food aid organization with a packaging facility in Nisswa. When started in 2012, the primary focus was shipping food to international countries for hunger relief efforts. As the charity has grown over the last eight years, the organization re-branded in 2019 from Kids Against Hunger Brainerd Lakes Area to The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes.

Roughly 80%-90% of all food packaged in the Nisswa location will be distributed in Minnesota. The remaining 10%-20% will be used for international destinations such as Haiti and Africa, as well as disaster relief for victims of tornadoes, floods and hurricanes.

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โ€œThe board of directors made a bold decision in March to modify our processes, yet continue to package meals," Shawn Hansen, executive director, said in a news release. โ€œWe need to be here for our communities at the time they need us the most."

Packing lines have been modified, age and health restrictions are in place for volunteers, and the facility has a COVID-19 sanitization plan. Smaller packing events have been created with limited numbers of volunteers. The facility has been COVID-free.

Prior to COVID-19, the primary funding sources for the organization were churches, civic organizations (through licensed gambling) and individual contributions. Since the pandemic began, funding during COVID-19 has come from grants, fundraising initiatives, business support, individual contributions and local civic groups.

Hansen said every time an ingredient order is placed, it costs about $30,000, and to date every truckload has been paid for. With another shipment arriving this week, she said the need for contributions continues.

โ€œWe had a goal of packaging 500,000 meals this year,โ€ Hansen said. โ€œOur largest year was 2019 and we packed 402,000 meals.โ€

The funds came in 2020 and the need for meals continued, which led to the million meals being packed.

The prediction over the next two to eight months is that the need will be higher, with record numbers of people unemployed, families working from home and schooling from home.

Outreach BLA packages one breakfast meal and six lunch/dinner meals. Each meal costs 30 cents. The meals are all nutritionally based and formulated from Iowa State University and only require 6-8 cups of boiling water to prepare.

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Hansen expressed concern over funding for 2021, with many uncertainties about COVID-19 and when life will transition back to some type of normalcy for families.

โ€œWe are here for the long haul," Hansen said. โ€œWe want to be there now when the need is great, and in the future. We manage our resources and our inventory, we balance our workload with a tight volunteer base, and we pray that funding continues to allow us to keep feeding families in need.

"We are proud of this accomplishment. It is a testament of devoted and compassionate individuals committing their time to a great cause. The Brainerd lakes area community members have been amazingly supportive," she said.

For more information about The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes, visit www.outreachprogramBLA.org (make sure to have the BLA extension on the search). Call 218-961-0055 or email shawn@outreachprogrambla.org.

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