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North Dakota food relief efforts see record demand in 2020 amid pandemic

North Dakota food relief efforts see record demand in 2020 amid pandemic

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Food boxes (copy)

Great Plains Food Bank volunteers Frank Brendel, left, of Mandan, and Brody Hilsendeger, right, of Bismarck, load food boxes into a recipient's vehicle while Sister Hannah Colby, of Bismarck, records the distribution in June outside Mandan Middle School.

North Dakota's only food bank experienced record demand amid the coronavirus pandemic last year.

Great Plains Food Bank in 2020 provided food for 17.7 million meals to those in need -- nearly 5 million more meals than in 2019. The not-for-profit organization helped nearly 146,000 people, an increase of 43,000 from the previous year. Each of the increases are records in the food bank's 38-year history.

“These were sobering numbers to see,” President Melissa Sobolik said in a statement. “We knew that it was a difficult year for so many, but this really puts things into perspective."

The organization distributed more than 21 million pounds of food last year, up 39% and also a record.

The food bank is based in Fargo, with a distribution center in Bismarck that opened in November. The organization distributes food to food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens and other charitable feeding programs in more than 100 communities across North Dakota and into eastern Minnesota. About half of those communities are in the western two-thirds of North Dakota.

The food bank provided more than 2.6 million meals in Burleigh and Morton counties last year, up 45% from 2019. More than 31,000 people in the region were helped, up 89% from the year before.

Great Plains last year also worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help distribute food boxes through the government's Families Food Box program, which was part of the federal Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program. USDA partnered with regional and local distributors to purchase up to $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy, and meat and deliver food boxes to Americans in need, in the process helping out farmers impacted by the pandemic.

"So many of those we served in 2020 were seeking a food box for the first time," Sobolik said.

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