NCFB, United Way willing to work with anyone who wants to take the lead

    Interested in taking over the food shelf? North Country Food Bank and United Way of Crookston are willing to work with you to make it happen. That was the main message given at Tuesday’s discussion meeting at Valley Technology Park.

    NCFB Executive Director Susie Novak led the conversations by providing background information on the food shelf, what the requirements would be for a new location and answered questions from the audience on size, staffing, fundraising, availability and more.

    The “co-working space” tables at VTP filled up quickly with business and building owners, managers, nonprofit directors and board members, and the general public who all seemed interested in learning more about what could be done to make sure Crookston has a food shelf in the future. North Country Food Bank, who currently runs the food shelf, have purchased a new facility in East Grand Forks and will be moving by the end of the year. They hope to have a new director/sponsor and location for the food shelf so it can be taken over by October 1. That’s the goal any way.

    Crookston’s food shelf currently serves anywhere from 250-300 families per month and receives food donations from Hugo’s and Walmart. NCFB plans to give the equipment they have the for the food shelf now to the new entity including items like racks, shelves, freezer, cooler, and a chilled display case.

    “This is a big deal for the community,” said Novak at least twice during Tuesday’s meeting. “If it goes away and someone isn’t able to operate it, that’s a lot of people in the community that affects.”

    “People come to food shelves because they have to, not because they want to,” she added. “We just want to feed people who need food. The disruption of not having this food shelf would be huge.”

    Novak said they work with 52 other food shelves in our service area and they have a lot of information and lessons to provide guidance for whoever can take it over.

QUESTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE ANSWERED BY NOVAK

    • What type of space is needed for a food shelf? “A room half this size (Valley Tech Park’s Co-Working Space) is enough room for a food shelf. It just has to be secure. We have all the equipment.”

    • How about staffing? “You can run it with volunteers or paid employees. It depends on who takes it over. Of the 52 food shelves in our service area, probably 20 have paid staff and most likely it’s just one person. It can be how anybody wants to make it.”

    • If you don’t own a facility and you have to rent, where does that money come from? “Fundraising. There are also grants and the United Way is a strong partner. There’s no magic pill for funding a food shelf.”

    • Does the building where the food shelf is located have to be responsible for the food shelf? “No. It doesn’t have to be a big space, it doesn’t have to be fancy. It just has to be big enough to hold the food.”

    • What hours is the food shelf open now and does it have to remain the same? “It’s currently open four hours a day, four days a week for a total of 16 hour. It doesn’t have to have the same hours and days. If we’re open for four hours a day, they’ll come in those four hours. If we’re open for three hours a day, they’ll come in those three hours. On a busy day there could be 20 families. On a slow day there could be two.”

    • On an average day, how many volunteers are needed? “Could be one, two or three. The biggest burden is when the truck comes and needs to be unloaded. We try to serve in a fast, friendly manner. Some days we have more volunteers than others.” (United Way Director Lori Wagner added there are already established Crookston volunteers)

    • Do the current clients have a say in the new process? “We’ll be doing a survey and we’ve done mobile food drops until we could get something going. We are hearing a lot of people are concerned there won’t be a place to go.”

    • Are there refrigerated items and what are the power needs? “There are and there is a freezer, cooler, fridge and cooled display case. They all use plug-ins in the wall.”

    • What about rules and regulations? “In order to get food from a food bank, the food shelf has to be a nonprofit or sponsored by a nonprofit and the food has to be free. There are civil rights requirements, food can’t be stored on the floor, etc. There are annual inspections and the USDA picks agencies to visit every year. The FDA can always walk in. There is guidance and forms for compliance. It’s never a case to come shut you down, but making sure you’re serving correctly and safely. Seems daunting, but it’s not as hard as it would appear. It’s so rewarding.”

    Susie invites anyone interested in learning more about the food shelf to visit their current downtown location at 424 North Broadway.