Tour of Grand Forks food pantry serves as guide for creating connections with rural communities, USDA
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Tour of Grand Forks food pantry serves as guide for creating connections with rural communities, USDA

Nov 19, 2023

GRAND FORKS — While emergency food programs tend to do well in areas that have a dense population due to easier access to food pantries, supporting food pantries in rural areas and tribal nations comes with its own set of challenges, said Stacy Dean, the U.S. Department of Agriculture deputy under secretary for food, nutrition and consumer services.

During a tour of Grand Forks' HC Community Care Center & Food Pantry on Monday, June 5, Dean emphasized that expanding services for those in rural areas is a top priority for the USDA.

"We saw during COVID all kinds of nonprofit groups step forward to help ..." Dean said. "We realize we’re not connected enough, so that's what we’re trying to do here, is make sure that anyone that wants to be in the emergency feeding business, particularly in rural communities, that we’re finding connections to them and making sure that they know how to connect to us."

Dean was joined by Great Plains Food Bank CEO Melissa Sobolik as HC Community Care Center Executive Director Mark Miller and HC Food Pantry Ministry Director Melanie Morrow showed how the food pantry operates.

Dean also will visit Spirit Lake Nation and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians to discuss the 16 nutrition assistance programs of the Food and Nutrition Service.


The HC Community Care Center & Food Pantry, located in the Grand Cities Mall, is a Great Plains Food Bank partner food pantry. HC Community Care Center & Food Pantry also partners with local businesses, churches and community organizations to provide food, life skills classes and support to those in the community.

Morrow said the number of people coming to the food pantry has remained steady, with under 200 people having used the pantry in May. On average, Morrow said, there are generally 40 new households a month that utilize the food pantry.

Morrow said the volunteers at HC Community Care Center & Food Pantry are vital for running the operations of nonprofit.

"I'm so grateful for them," she said.

Sobolik said the Great Plains Food Bank, which has about 197 partners across North Dakota and Clay County, Minnesota, has seen a spike in the number of people relying on food assistance. More than 11 million pounds of food were distributed last year. Now, Sobolik said, Great Plains Food Bank is facing challenges with food supply.

"We can't get the product that we used to get, the quantities, the variety that we used to," she said. "But our numbers of people have increased about 30% and that has been consistent. We had our fourth biggest month in history this January. We saw the numbers go up during COVID and then they dropped down and now they’re starting to go back up."

Products in demand right now include eggs, any type of meat product, pasta, pasta sauce, rice, cereal and peanut butter.

Fresh produce is another in-demand product. Dean said the USDA is figuring out how to make it more available to rural areas, considering troubles that arise with transportation.


"By the time we get it, get it into our warehouse, get it to you, we need to make sure it's still good," Sobolik said.

HC Community Care Center & Food Pantry, through Great Plains Food Bank, does a retail rescue, during which they go to select grocery stores to get overstocked and end-of-shelf-life items that would possibly be discarded.

Along with food, the food pantry also carries hygiene products, including soap, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste, which Morrow said are always in demand.

Dean also was curious about the other services and connections HC Community Care Center offers. People that come to the nonprofit are able to speak with a care coordinator to talk about other resources, such as rent assistance programs in the community.