November 23, 2011

Food Pantry spreads Thanksgiving cheer

By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer

With the holiday season just around the corner, McKenzie County residents are busy making plans and preparations. Family members are being called and shopping lists are being made.
But, for someone hit hard by the current economy, the holiday season can be a stressor rather than a time of joy and giving thanks.
Thankfully, the McKenzie County Food Pantry has been doing what it can to alleviate at least one of the burdens a financially strapped individual may be carrying. And that is providing a meal for his or her family this Thanksgiving.
Open the third Tuesday of every month from 2 to 4 p.m., the McKenzie County Food Pantry works to provide food to families and individuals all over McKenzie County.
Heather Wisness, McKenzie County Extension agent, is responsible for keeping the Food Pantry stocked.
“The Food Pantry carries all kinds of food products, personal care items and cleaning supplies,” states Wisness. “We stock canned foods, frozen meats and food items, dry non-perishables, and some baby formula, baby food and infant cereal, along with diapers and wipes. In the summer and fall months, we also have fresh produce available when possible.”
This Thanksgiving, however, the food bank staff and volunteers were busy putting together an extra treat for area residents.
According to Marcia Hellandsaas, McKenzie County Extension agent, in addition to gathering items from the food bank, patrons were able to pick up a holiday basket filled with all the fixings for a homemade and plentiful Thanksgiving meal.
“Baskets were filled with either turkey or ham, depending on the family size, fresh apples and potatoes, canned fruits and vegetables, bread and margarine, and sweet potatoes, marshmallows and walnuts,” states Wisness. “We also included lemon cake with frosting for dessert and some extra treats as well for families to enjoy.”
Wisness also states that recipe cards accompanied the basket items, so recipients would know why they were getting those specific ingredients.
On Tuesday, Nov. 22, Food Bank staff and volunteers gathered at First Lutheran Church to begin assembling the 75 Thanksgiving baskets to be given away that day.
“Quite a few people came out to make baskets,” states Josh Wiley, Watford City Wesleyan Church youth pastor. “It was a lot of fun.”
“We must have had at least 12 volunteers, in addition to Food Pantry staff,” states Hellandsaas. “We got the baskets done in no time.”
The food bank opened from 10 to 11 a.m. that morning to begin handing out the baskets, then opened at their regular time of 2 to 4 p.m. later that afternoon.
Also, McKenzie County Social Services and area pastors generated a list of people who could benefit from receiving a basket for the holiday. They first contacted these individuals, then gave the list to the food bank.
According to Karen Holte, McKenzie County Eligibility worker, of the people who receive services from her office, 10 were interested in a basket. The agency then collected those baskets from the food bank and distributed them to their customers from the Social Services office.
Likewise, Wisness states that area pastors also collected the baskets they requested and delivered them to the people on their list.
“The people who received the baskets were incredibly grateful,” stated Wisness. “You can tell it’s a little extra burden off their shoulders to be able to provide a meal for their family this Thanksgiving.”
All-in-all, of the 75 baskets made last Tuesday, 70 were distributed to area residents. The left-over basket ingredients were restocked to be used again.
Wisness orders food to stock the pantry from the Great Plains Food Bank in Fargo and local grocery stores. The McKenzie County Food Pantry is supported by monetary donations from area residents and by volunteers.
“I can’t give enough praise to all our volunteers,” states Wisness. “We have a fantastic group of helpers who are always willing to work really hard. We would not be able to do the things we do without them.”
The McKenzie County Food Pantry will be open twice during the month of December in hopes of better serving its recipients during the holiday season. They will be open for additional operating hours on Dec. 6 from 5 to 7 p.m., and their normal third Tuesday of the month, which will fall on Dec. 20 from 2 to 4 p.m.
Anyone wishing to support the McKenzie County Food Pantry is encouraged to contact Marcia Hellandsaas at the McKenzie County Extension Office.