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Efforts being made to eliminate hunger in Cass County, Minnesota

Local authorities and organizations dedicated to food assistance in Pine River and Hackensack have begun a round of talks with the goal of feeding more hungry families and individuals.

This action came after a June 13 presentation by David Dayhoff, director of Hunger Free Minnesota Partnership Engagement and Advocacy,

Dayhoff’s presentation revealed that roughly 686,000 meals are missed annually by Cass County residents. These numbers come from statewide research done by Feeding America, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, University of Minnesota Food Industry Center and data from Minnesota food banks and other non-profit and government agencies.

Dayhoff’s information wasn’t a surprise to many people at the meeting.

“I just left thinking there was work to be done to figure out what we could do about it,” said Jill Blanchard, Pine River-Backus Food Service director.

Dayhoff’s presentation showed that there are many organizations working to provide meals to those who need them, including food shelf groups and schools with free meal services during the school year and summer.

Even so, more help is needed. That is the next step.

The purpose of the planning meeting by Dayhoff was to assist in starting a collaborative effort between food shelves, family centers, schools and any group that has an interest in combating hunger in Cass County. It was hoped that by bringing them together these groups would be able to gather their resources and ideas to be more effective together.

Furthermore, Hunger-Free is offering grants to help create sustainable programs for feeding the hungry.

The next step in the process was taken June 26, when workers and volunteers from the local food shelf, family center, thrift store and Pine River-Backus High School gathered to compare data and make plans.

Much attention was given to data gathered by the Pine River Area Food Shelf, including a survey of 100 clients to better determine household needs and relevant demographic information. The survey included information ranging from family size, transportation information and clients’ hopes.

The group decided that children and the elderly are two important groups to consider. They began by making plans to increase food availability for local children who otherwise may go hungry, especially during the summer months.

Blanchard said there is already a program at the school to help provide free breakfast and lunch to anyone 18 and younger. She said the program currently only runs in August during summer school because of lack of attendance. The program could easily be extended if more eligible kids showed up, she said.

“What is it that I’m not doing to get the numbers up? This will be the third year,” Blanchard said. “I’d be happy to get them for one meal.”

Lack of transportation is likely one reason so few kids have been taking advantage of the program, especially those living outside of Pine River. Lack of awareness was also brought up.

“If we wanted to really work on that, how do we reach people?” said Leslie Bouchonville, executive director of the Pine River Family Center.

The group decided its first initiative was to attempt to increase awareness of summer food programs for students, and to encourage people to use the service.

The group discussed different businesses and services that might be frequented by members of households in need of assistance. These included local churches, the food shelf, the Laundromat, the library and The Warehouse, among others. It is in these places that they decided to advertise for the summer food program. They would then assess the results and make more plans.

This is just the first step in a new initiative to curb hunger locally. The group met again July 9 and will continue to meet in the future. Parties interested in sharing ideas or contributing can contact Leslie Bouchonville with the Family Center at 218-587-4292 or

This effort is in conjunction with food assistance programs throughout the state. Dayhoff’s presentation showed that neighboring Crow Wing County annually misses 1,318,500 meals. Dayhoff and Hunger-Free Minnesota are working with groups throughout the state with the goal of wiping out hunger in all Minnesota counties, not just these two. They have set a goal of providing 10 million more meals to Minnesota’s food insecure.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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