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Charitable food network adds new programs

FARGO -- Officials with the North Dakota charitable feeding network are concerned their statewide pantries will be unable to keep up with the growing number of seniors and working poor in rural areas seeking nutrition assistance.

Creating a Hunger Free North Dakota officials unveiled plans this week to better serve the one in 12 North Dakotans, or about 53,000 people, who rely on the state's charitable feeding network, Great Plains Food Bank Director Steve Sellent said.

On Tuesday, the group launched new mobile food pantry and prepackaged food basket programs, which will reach rural clients who have never been served before.

"This will allow us to provide services virtually anywhere in the state," Sellent said. "We're going to try to get the food to them wherever and however we can."

Food shelf visits in the state have increased 42 percent over the past five years while food supplies have only increased 5 percent, according to the Creating a Hunger Free North Dakota 2008 study.

The study found that pantries statewide are struggling to offer services in sparsely populated and declining rural areas because of higher transportation costs and a lack of adequate funding.

The study shows that 29 of North Dakota's 53 counties are underserved. Bringing all counties up to minimum service levels would require a 6 percent increase in food distribution, the study said.

Meeting full-service needs would require a 30 percent increase, while creating a hunger-free North Dakota would require almost doubling current food resources, the study said.

"We face some challenges in order to achieve our goal, but this study provides a road map for getting us there," said Marcia Paulson, project coordinator for Creating a Hunger Free North Dakota.

Creating a Hunger Free North Dakota partners involved in the 18-month study are Great Plains Food Bank, the North Dakota Department of Commerce, Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center, the North Dakota State University Extension Service and the North Dakota Community Action Partnership.

The statewide Task Force on Hunger will meet for the first time during Hunger Action Month in September, Paulson said.

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