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Melissa Sobolik, director of Ending Hunger 2.0, a new initiative of the Great Plains Food Bank, announced the launch of the program on Thursday in Bismarck.

North Dakota's food bank has announced a new program aimed at solving more than just hunger.

Great Plains Food Bank, which partners with food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens and other similar programs across the state, this week unveiled a new initiative called Ending Hunger 2.0, which extends beyond distributing food to the needy and includes partnerships with communities and other industries.

The food bank will celebrate its 35th anniversary next month, and with that milestone comes reflection on the work the organization has done, Steve Sellent, CEO of Great Plains Food Bank, said Thursday at a news conference in Bismarck.

"If food alone was the answer to hunger, we would have solved it by now after 35 years," Sellent said. "If we’re going to end hunger, we now know we need to attack it from multiple fronts, going beyond our current work of meeting the immediate need for food."

When Great Plains Food Bank celebrated its 25th anniversary, officials with the organization decided they wanted to do more and developed seven new programs targeting childhood, senior and rural hunger, including a backpack program and a mobile food pantry.

Since then, the food bank more than doubled the number of people served annually, from 46,000 to 97,000 people, Sellent said. Also, it tripled the amount of meals provided each year from 4 million to more than 11.6 million this past year.

"With all the progress that we’ve made in recent years, we’re at the point where we can not only envision, but for the first time in our history, have developed plans for the day when no one in Bismarck-Mandan and no one in our state goes hungry," he said.

Melissa Sobolik, director of the Ending Hunger 2.0 program, said Great Plains Food Bank will work with new partners, including Sanford Health, to provide support for those with food insecurity, who often have difficulties with housing, child care, transportation, employment and health care.

The Ending Hunger 2.0 includes three pillars of work: advocacy, community-based solutions and research.

Great Plains Food Bank, through the program, will advocate for policy changes at the local, state and federal level.

The food bank also plans to conduct 500 in-person interviews with food pantries, soup kitchens and shelter clients across the state and in Clay County, Minn. This effort is similar to studies done in 2010 and 2014 in North Dakota, led by Great Plains Food Bank and Feeding America.

Finally, Ending Hunger 2.0 will focus on "personalized solutions" to ending hunger in communities across the state.

"What works for a rural senior doesn’t necessarily work for an urban senior. What works in western North Dakota doesn’t necessarily work in eastern North Dakota," Sobolik said.

The first partner for the program is Sanford Health, which will launch a pilot program at its hospitals in Bismarck and Fargo. Birth designers, or registered nurses who work with expecting mothers, at both hospitals will be screening mothers for food insecurity and help get them on food stamps and connected with other resources.

Sanford Health also will be providing funding to Great Plains Food Bank over the next five years.

"This one’s easy for us to do, and we have the ability to make a profound impact not only on our patients but a lot of individuals around the state," said Fred Fridley, vice president of operations for Sanford Health in Bismarck.

The goal would be to expand to other hospitals and clinics in North Dakota, Sobolik said.

For more information on Ending Hunger 2.0, visit www.greatplainsfoodbank.org/ending_hunger_2_0/.

(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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Education and Health Reporter