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Frozen without food: New Englanders volunteer to replenish grocery store

After two weeks without a food delivery New Englanders pitched in to help unload a shipment at the town's only grocery store, with an emphasis on getting food to the elderly who need it most.

New England Store
Volunteers stock shelves at the New England Community Store.
Contributed / John Fielding
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NEW ENGLAND, N.D.— Residents sprang into action when word got out that the grocery store finally received supplies from a truck for the first time in weeks. About 15 volunteers helped to restock groceries at the New England Community Store where many shelves were bare as blizzard conditions closing roads and made deliveries impossible in rural areas.

John Fielding, president of the board of directors for the store, said they usually get a supply truck every Wednesday, but hadn’t for two weeks. They were bracing for another week without a delivery since road conditions were deteriorating again on delivery day.

“We were surprised he even came. He was apologizing for being so late," Fielding said. “We didn't have quite a few things,” Fielding said. “Fruits and vegetables were 99% gone.”

The store was entirely out of eggs, butter, crackers and other food staples. Volunteers were impressively organized in their work, despite many having no experience in stocking shelves.

“We kind of had a system set up, a place to break down boxes and put them in carts so they can be hauled out and most of them knew what they were doing,” Fielding said. “Everybody worked well together.”

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New England store
Volunteers stock the shelves at New England grocery store after going several weeks without a supply truck.
Contributed / John Fielding

New England residents and surrounding areas rely heavily on the store for their groceries, and many have gone without their usual groceries until they were able to restock.

“They've been extremely grateful that we were never closed during all of this blizzard,” Fielding said. “I think it's super important for the elderly that just can't get out in bad weather, can't see as well or whatever. And for them, it's important to me that we keep it going.”

The grocery store usually relies on the help of regular volunteers, but about half of those who helped on Wednesday were not the weekly helpers they are used to, Fielding said. Some were college students on break. He said it took over an hour to get everything unpacked and situated.

Rita Lutz, a regular volunteer, said the extra helping hands were definitely appreciated.

“That was awesome to see,” Lutz said. “We really need more muscle, more people to help because then it wouldn't take so long. Especially if we have a big truck ,which we sometimes do. It went very smoothly yesterday because of all the help we had.”

The community has a rich history of donating time to help each other out. Several years ago, New England went without a grocery store for a year or two before the community came together to open this store, which is a co-op.

“It was all done by volunteering to tear out walls and do the remodeling,” Fielding said.“That's the whole thing that got it started.”

Lutz was touched to see familiar and unfamiliar faces of all ages pitching in.

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“That's what built this store in the first place, was volunteer work,” she added.

Joe Bohlman, a retired teacher and long time volunteer said he was not able to help unload this last truck, but is grateful others stepped in.

“Anytime you can get more help, the more, the merrier,” he said. “We're always looking for volunteers.”

Ashley Koffler is a Killdeer, North Dakota native and Dickinson State University graduate, with a Bachelor’s Degree in writing, and minors in journalism and psychology. Formerly working in Community Affairs for Roosevelt Custer Regional Council for Development, her reporting focuses on the Dickinson city government, community features, business and agriculture — among others.
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