On July 1, the Minnesota National Guard helped pack 102,384 meals for the community, meaning The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes in Nisswa has now packaged 670,464 meals in six months of 2020.
“Our communities need us now, more than ever. And the need will get bigger as the pandemic continues to challenge family’s incomes,” Shawn Hansen, executive director and the program's only paid staff person, said in a news release.
The packing event with the Minnesota National Guard came about by a conversation Hansen had with Bronson Lake, a human resources specialist on base at Camp Ripley.
“Bronson is familiar with the Outreach Program; he is an avid fisherman and has fished in the Fishing To End Hunger walleye tournament, which is a fundraiser for our organization," Hansen said.
Lake and Hansen were able to coordinate a remote pack at Camp Ripley, using Minnesota National Guardsmen/women, civilian staff on base, and family members of guard personnel.
Four different meals were packed at Camp Ripley on July 1. All meals were transported back to The Outreach warehouse in Nisswa and will be available for immediate and future distribution. The packaged meals have a two-year shelf life.
The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes (formerly Kids Against Hunger Brainerd Lakes Area) was founded in 2012 and is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit focused on humanitarian food aid. Its mission is to feed families, with 80%-90% of the meals to be distributed within a 100-mile radius of Brainerd, and the remaining 10%-20% being distributed for international aid and/or disaster relief.
In 2019, the organization packed 402,000 meals with help from volunteers ages 4-104 to package meals.
From Jan. 1-March 7, 2020, the Outreach Program packaged 61,344 meals. On March 16, they held an emergency board of directors meeting to discuss COVID-19. They were faced with the decision to either close or find a way to continue providing meals for families in need. They chose to stay open, shortened their radius to 60 miles, altered their processes to accommodate social distancing and added additional steps for health and safety of the volunteers who were entering the facility.
They locked their doors and selected approximately 40 volunteers to be pack warriors. These warriors have packed 506,736 meals from March 17-June 30.
The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes packages meals for only 30 cents per meal. The meals are distributed to local area food shelves, community meal programs, schools, college campuses and shelters, among others.
“We are in this for the long haul," Hansen said. “We need to be there for our communities today, tomorrow and in the future."
The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes is a community associate with a larger organization, The Outreach Program located in Des Moines, Iowa. Outreach has seven different meal options, all formulated by Iowa State University. The meals are balanced with nutrition, protein and only require six to eight cups of boiling water to make.
Meals are packaged in a bag that contains six servings. Meal varieties include: beans and rice, tomato basil pasta, macaroni & cheese, minestrone soup, spanish rice (gluten free), cheesy rice (gluten free) and apple cinnamon oatmeal.
“We are proud of the work we are doing. It’s a happy and sad situation every day. Sad because the need is big and our neighbors are hungry. We wish we could remove hunger completely, from our communities, from our state, from our nation and all around the globe. Happy because we have an abundance of amazing volunteers and a community of donors that help fund our mission of feeding families," Hansen said.
The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes is seeking donations to support this packing opportunity. Those who would like more information or want to contribute should contact Shawn Hansen by phone at 218-961-0055; by mail to 24489 Hazelwood Drive, Nisswa MN 56468; by visiting www.outreachprogramBLA.org (make sure the BLA extension is on the end); and on Facebook at The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes.