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Great Plains Food Bank works to end hunger in southwest North Dakota

In 2021, the Great Plains Food Bank served more than 121,000 individuals across the state of North Dakota. The nonprofit organization, which is the only food bank in the state, is committed to providing equitable food assistance to all North Dakotans.

A man loads crates of food into a van during a previous distribution hosted by the Great Plains Food Bank. In 2021, the nonprofit served more than 121,000 individuals across the state of North Dakota.
A man loads crates of food into a van during a previous distribution hosted by the Great Plains Food Bank. In 2021, the nonprofit served more than 121,000 individuals across the state of North Dakota.
Contributed / Great Plains Food Bank
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DICKINSON — One in six individuals is impacted by hunger in North Dakota, according to the Great Plains Food Bank. For nearly four decades, the nonprofit organization has provided millions upon millions of meals, each year, to those in need of assistance across the state of North Dakota and into western Minnesota.

In 2021, the Great Plains Food Bank served more than 121,400 individuals — 34% children and 17% seniors — showing that food insecurity is an issue even in an agricultural rich state such as North Dakota, Communications Manager Jared Slinde said in an interview with The Dickinson Press. However, they are working on ending hunger in every corner of the state, especially in southwest North Dakota, Slinde added.

“We know that people are counting on the Great Plains Food Bank and all these programs and services to be able to fill (and) supplement their nutritional needs when they are in need,” Slinde said. “We see it all the time. Even with 10 people that are food insecure, you're going to find 10 different paths to how they got there. It's a medical issue, it's a loss of a job, they’re between jobs, high cost of day care, it's lots of different things that come into play and everyone's got their own stories. So we understand our role is incredibly important in the state and certainly in your communities out there as well.”

The Great Plains Food Bank, which is the only food bank in North Dakota, works across the state and especially those living in rural counties such as Stark, Billings, Golden Valley, Hettinger, Slope, Adams and Bowman. In southwest North Dakota, the nonprofit operates several programs and services, while also supplying food for 11 partner food pantries, three backpack programs and hosting mobile food distributions throughout the eight-county area.

People gather at a previous distribution site hosted by the Great Plains Food Bank in North Dakota.
People gather at a previous distribution site hosted by the Great Plains Food Bank in North Dakota.
Contributed / Great Plains Food Bank

These food pantries are able to select items from inside the Great Plains Food Bank warehouse, which are then shipped directly to each food pantry where they are made available for clients in need. On average, the Great Plains Food Bank provides 80% of the food that is distributed by food pantries in the network, according to a press release.

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Serving more than 121,400 individuals in 2021 throughout North Dakota and Clay County in Minnesota, Slinde said that they were able to provide 12.6 million meals — which is slightly down from serving 145,000 individuals in 2020.

“COVID kind of threw the world into a tailspin and that was certainly no different for us here and those who need food assistance,” Slinde said. “But we're still operating at a level that far exceeds anything pre-pandemic. So there's still a lot of need out there.”

Since 1983, Slinde said that they’ve learned that working with this model, they’ve learned to adapt and prepare for the unexpected.

“I think we've been through, in this organization, through floods and a recession, and certainly the pandemic — in my time here — (has) easily been the most challenging time and thrown us the biggest curve ball, that’s for sure,” he said. “... What the pandemic taught us (and) showed us is we saw food donations absolutely plummet, or we were forced to do additional purchasing to offset an increase in need and all that was happening at one time and what you learned is to be able to adjust on the fly and be able to accommodate different things… So it's just adapt and overcome. We're going on almost 40 years here now and that's what it comes down — to have enough force to face so many different challenges.”

Each year, the nonprofit works to bring in just over $5 million with fundraisers to help support its food assistance programs. Slinde noted that those funds come in through various ways from grants, corporate gifts to individual donations. For each dollar that is raised, Great Plains Food Bank can provide three meals, he added.

The need is there, Slinde said, adding that it’s not going away anytime soon.

“So we’re efficient, certainly in what we do with 96% everything raised can go right back to providing food assistance to those in need,” he said. “Our mission here is to end hunger together and we wouldn't be able to provide these services, certainly at this level, without memberships and without individuals in each community, and that certainly works for the Backpack Program in Dickinson and all our partners out there and the partners we're working with in Amidon, Bowman, New England and everyone else.”

Volunteers smile during the Farmers to Families Food Box Program that the Great Plains Food Bank hosted at the Biesiot Activities Center in Dickinson.
Volunteers smile during the Farmers to Families Food Box Program that the Great Plains Food Bank hosted at the Biesiot Activities Center in Dickinson.
Contributed / Great Plains Food Bank

Jackie Jahfetson is a graduate of Northern Michigan University whose journalism path began in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as a freelancer for The Daily Mining Gazette. Her previous roles include editor-in-chief at The North Wind and reporter at The Mining Journal in Marquette, Mich. Raised on a dairy farm, she immediately knew Dickinson would be her first destination west as she focuses on gaining aptitude for ranch life, crop farming and everything agriculture. She covers hard news stories centered on government, fires, crime and education. When not fulfilling deadlines and attending city commission meetings, she is a budding musician and singer.
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