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Filling the hunger gap: Programs tackling shortage of food available in rural areas

GRAND FORKS -- A 2008 study, Creating a Hunger Free North Dakota, illustrated a glaring reality--for one in 12 North Dakotans, the state's charitable food distribution programs provided the difference between having food on the table and going hu...

GRAND FORKS - A 2008 study, Creating a Hunger Free North Dakota, illustrated a glaring reality-for one in 12 North Dakotans, the state’s charitable food distribution programs provided the difference between having food on the table and going hungry.
The study also indicated that 29 of the state’s 53 counties were being underserved, meaning they were receiving less than 50 percent of the national average in a measurement defined as meals per food-insecure person.
Charitable food service resources would have to nearly double, to 9.1 million pounds, to fill that gap and create a hunger-free North Dakota, the study’s authors calculated.
Seven years later, Great Plains Food Bank food distribution in North Dakota has grown by 238 percent, from just under 3.7 million pounds to about 8.8 million pounds.
Overall food distribution, including services provided in Minnesota and product shared with other food banks, increased from 5.5 million pounds to 13.5 million pounds during the same period, said Steve Sellent, Great Plains Food Bank director.
“Because of the tremendous growth in food distribution over the last seven years, just one county in North Dakota is currently classified as being underserved,” he said.
Ransom County, in southeastern North Dakota, remains the only county now receiving less than 50 percent of the national average of meals per food-insecure person.
“Since that study, we’ve really been focusing our energy and our attention on those counties,” said Marcia Paulson, Great Plains Food Bank director of marketing and development.
To address the need, the nonprofit initiated several new programs, including a mobile food pantry delivering pre-packed food boxes to people in need in underserved counties across the state, a BackPack program providing child-friendly nutritional food items for children to take home from school on weekends and a Senior food program providing nutritionally balanced shelf-stable food packages to people 60 and older who met federal poverty guidelines.
Great Plains Food Bank, created in 1983 to serve the Fargo-Moorhead area, now serves all of North Dakota, plus Clay County in Minnesota.
Great Plains, with a team of some 30 employees and some 5,300 volunteers, distributes food products across the state to a network of some 265 partner agencies-food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters-in some 110 communities across the state.
North Country Food Bank, based in Crookston, serves 230 agencies and programs in 21 northwestern Minnesota counties. The Hunger in America 2014 report indicated 58,100 people in North Dakota, one-third of them children, used food pantries and emergency meal programs that year.
And though that’s an improvement since 2008, more needs to be done, Sellent said. Part of the solution is accurately measuring the problem.
The 2008 study included food provided by several charitable sources, including Great Plains Food Bank. The current model uses only Great Plains Food Bank data, Sellent said.
“This, along with other changes in methodology, allows us to update information on a quarterly basis rather than undertaking a major study to gather data,” he said.

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