A new walk-in refrigerator and freezer addition at Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen in Brainerd will serve as a storage hub for food shelves throughout Crow Wing County.
Thanks in part to a coronavirus relief grant from the county, the soup kitchen was able to partner with those in its food coalition — including food shelves in Pequot Lakes, Crosby, Crosslake and at Central Lakes College — to purchase the equipment and enhance food resources in the area. Crow Wing Energized and the University of Minnesota Extension Office aided with the project as well.
“It is really fun standing here in this building because over a year and a half ago it was just a dream in people’s minds, and so to actually walk in the building is a beautiful thing,” said Shannon Mills, executive director of Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen, Monday, May 10, as she stood in the building’s new addition.
In 2019, Chuck Mueller, of Lakes Area Food Pantry in Pequot Lakes, learned there were businesses in the area willing to donate their excess food to soup kitchens or food shelves, but the entities receiving it had to be affiliated with Feeding America. Luckily, Second Harvest Food Bank, which provides the coalition members with much of their food, is a Feeding America affiliate, meaning the donations were good to go.
Mueller and others in the coalition now pick up food two days a week from both Costco and Target, as well as other businesses when excess is available.
The caveat for many of the businesses, however, is that the food shelves need to take all of the food available. But with limited transportation and storage, that can sometimes be difficult.
The day after Thanksgiving, Mueller picked up 350 pies from Costco. In cases like this, Mueller or others with larger vehicles end up driving all over the county to drop the donations off at various food shelves or shelters. But with the new refrigerator and freezer addition at Sharing Bread offering plenty of storage space, those from other food shelves can come to one central location to pick up any items they need.
“Here we are today, celebrating not the COVID, but some of the outcomes of the COVID, with funding to further the advancement of food for those in Crow Wing County in particular,” said Peter Mann, of the Lakes Area Food Shelf, Monday. “... I believe that there’s enough food in the world for all of the people in the world. The biggest issue is distribution, getting it to the right place at the right time so that it’s still fresh, and this hub should help address that issue in Crow Wing County.”
And to further help with distribution, the coalition is working to secure funding for a van.
“If we can get the right vehicle, we can take food from here and then go to more underserved areas,” Mueller said, mentioning areas like Leader, Merrifield, Emily and Pine River, where it might be a trek to come to Brainerd to pick up food from the soup kitchen.
According to Hunger Solutions Minnesota, which works with state and federal governments to advance programs that tackle hunger, visits to Minnesota food shelves were up 7% in 2020. Minnesotans made a record high of more than 3.8 million visits to food shelves. The senior population visited food shelves 31% more in 2020 than 2019, while overall adult usage was up 1.2%. Children represented 35.7% of food shelf visits in 2020.
“One thing we know is that food life is a problem across American and also that food insecurity is a problem. But also with food waste, there’s also increased pollution, so if we can help eliminate that, that’s something that our food shelf coalition, I think, would be doing a benefit to both. Costco doesn’t have to throw it in their dumpster, and we can find somewhere for it to go.”
The desired van would also help cut down on that food waste as well. Food rescued from retailers that might not be up to snuff for soup kitchen or food shelf clients could still be donated to farmers, who might be able to use it as animal feed or for composting.
And hopefully, both mobile distribution and the walk-in refrigerator/freezer will help fight food insecurity in the area as well.
“By us being able to have a location like this and for us to be able to do the mobile distribution, we’re going to be able to expand the work that we do,” Kalsey Stults, of Crow Wing Energized, said Monday. “And one thing that we continue talking about is there’s such a stigma in people wanting to admit they’re hungry. There’s such a personal stigma. They fight with having to come in and ask for help or coming in and saying, ‘I’m having problems feeding my kids,’ or ‘I’m retired, and I just can’t make it on what I’m getting every month. But all of the organizations that we work with — and I know there’s many others that we don’t work with — they’re all just here trying to help people in that time of need. And it’s OK if your time of need is one time or if it continues to be every single month. There’s nothing associated with it that anyone should feel shame for. Everyone deserves to have food.”