2020 and Lessons Learned

The other day, our Volunteer Coordinator Debbie and I were looking back in our email, trying to answer a question about exactly when our programs changed in response to the pandemic. Little did we know that the process of going back in time in our Inboxes and Sent Folders would end up becoming an emotional reflection of the year. As we scrolled away in our respective offices, we exclaimed to each other about the many changes, amazing individuals, and the remarkable resiliency of our organization.

I can’t say that I ever took Bemidji Community Food Shelf for granted before 2020. I knew better. But the organization did seem to roll along, held up by our member churches and their wonderful volunteers, who came and went on a steady schedule. When the pandemic hit, that structure suddenly crumbled, with many – most – volunteers withdrawing from service. Suddenly we were adrift, knowing there was a huge need but not knowing how to continue. What a revelation it was when several area businesses loaned us their furloughed staff to get the food out to our neighbors. Our eyes and hearts were opened to the realization that the community sees us and understands and values the importance of our mission.

We needed a new roof. The bill was almost $80,000. We asked for help and were given it. Many donations and some grants funded our new roof, which was finished in June. We were having to turn away opportunities for large quantities of frozen meat because we didn’t have the freezer space. We asked for help and were given it, through a large bequest and COVID-19 Food Shelf funds. We installed a new, efficient walk-in freezer in November. We needed a different truck to allow us to progress to a mobile food shelf program and to pick up from our food bank. With COVID-19 Transportation funds, we purchased our large truck in September. Our office area was depressing, with dark wood paneling and worn carpet. An area business donated leftover carpet tiles and volunteers painted. We now have a bright and attractive space in which to work.

Our Farm, which over the years has relied heavily on the work of AmeriCorps teams, faced a huge challenge. We thought we would have to scale back dramatically. Amazingly, volunteers appeared from the ether, many coming every day. We had a record harvest of nearly 15,000 pounds of produce.

I am so blessed to be a part of this beautiful mission. 2020 has taught me so much about our community and how strong we can be in the face of dramatic change. I am comforted that the food shelf will survive thanks to the support of our community and beyond. I have come to more deeply value the individuals – staff, volunteers, customers, supporters – who, woven together, create Bemidji Community Food Shelf.

I wish you all blessings of peace and love in 2021. Happy New Year!

Mary Mitchell, BCFS Executive Director