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Food pantry and backpack program service expands...

Coronavirus unemployment as well as the physical dismissal of school could be reasons for increased traffic at the Kenmare Food Pantry and with the backpack food bag program.

4/21/20 (Tue)

Coronavirus unemployment as well as the physical dismissal of school could be reasons for increased traffic at the Kenmare Food Pantry and with the backpack food bag program.

Kenmare Food Pantry Director Jane Kalmbach has noted a subtle increase in the number of families using the food pantry, but there has been a 40 percent increase in the number of backpacks assembled.

“Throughout the winter we have increased an average of three families per month,” Kalmbach said. “In April so far, we’ve had four new families.”

She added, “The week before school let out, we were assembling 58 backpack food bags every Friday. This past week, there were 113 backpack bags and 125 art bags delivered on Friday, plus additional bags available at city hall and outside the elementary school.”

As a result of the added work and additional clients, Kalmbach has added another day for better service to her clients.

Right now and through the end of May, it’s the second and fourth Mondays of the month, 11:15 a.m., to 12:45 p.m., and from 5-6 p.m., at 117 2nd St. NW, which is the former Johnson Tax Service building.

“We will re-evaluate this as time goes on,” Kalmbach said. “Clients are welcome to come on both days of the month.”

Luckily, a number of volunteers have stepped forward to help out and Kalmbach says additional people have made offers in the last few weeks.

In addition, there is plenty of food to keep the shelves stocked and distributor Great Plains Food Bank in Fargo hasn’t given any indication of that changing.

In addition, several local businesses provided what Kalmbach called “generous donations” which allowed volunteers to assemble an art bag to be distributed with every backpack.

But with people getting laid off and unemployment skyrocketing,  things could change.

Kalmach can’t confirm unemployment is the reason for increased service, but says it’s certainly a possibility.

“I can’t say for sure as I do not know who gets the backpack bags,” she said. “One reason we are delivering more bags is that they go out with every school lunch on Friday. Perhaps every child doesn’t need a bag, but we hope they enjoy it and feel that people (outside of their family) do care about them.”

Right now and for the foreseeable future, the food pantry is on solid ground, according to Kalmbach. There’s plenty of food, donations have helped build up the inventory and if bad were to go to worse, Kalmbach has another trick up her sleeve to keep the gooseneck fed.

However, she hasn’t yet seen any communiques regarding federal funding to ease the burden of the COVID-19 situation.

Instead, Great Plains Food Bank has stepped up and announced it has additional pre-packaged food boxes available to order for local food pantries.

Kalmbach said, however, she is always happy to accept monetary donations to keep the pantry going. She tries her best to purchase as much as she can locally, has a great list of local volunteers, although if someone wants to be added to the list, they are welcome to call.

“We have generous donations from local businesses and private individuals in the last month,” she said. “I got a check in the mail yesterday from Florida. We are so grateful for the support and all of the help that has been offered to us.”

Based on that support alone, Kalmbach isn’t a bit worried about what the near term may bring.

“If the day comes and we run out of funding, I will write grants,” she said. “When Sandy (Nelson) and I started the food pantry, there was no money and we used our own to open a bank account.”

Now, it’s providing a valuable service to people, a service that’s a couple of steps ahead of the soup kitchens of the Great Depression when unemployment was even higher than it is now.

Regardless of what happens until the pandemic passes, statewide guidance is also available to local food pantries.

Kalmbach hasn’t needed it or sought it out, but says it’s available nonetheless.

“They are (Great Plains Food Bank) holding a webinar every Wednesday and lend support through emails,” she said. “I have not yet been available to go online to take part in these webinars.”

To be eligible, the Kenmare Food Pantry is an income based system with guidelines sent out by Great Plains Food Bank. A client intake form is all that is needed to receive food.

“For this April and May, we are making it available to everyone with no paperwork required,” Kalmbach said. “The backpack program has always been offered to families on the reduced meal program at the school. This is the first year we’ve opened it up to families. Again, at this time, all students are welcome to a backpack bag – no paperwork required.” ... Read EVERY WORD on EVERY PAGE of The Kenmare News by subscribing--online or in print!