United Way Supports Rural Food Shelves

Each month, the food shelf in Bigfork, Minnesota (also known as the North Itasca Emergency Food Shelf) provides food to more than 200 individuals who live in the small community. Along with distributing a variety of nutritious food, including fresh produce, to families in need, the food shelf also works alongside Second Harvest food bank to bring pop-up pantries to its community and helps families access holiday meals.

The Bigfork Food Shelf, along with the Deer River Food Shelf, is one of two food shelves supported through United Way of 1000 Lakes’ community investment process. These organizations make food and nutritional assistance more accessible to people in their communities, where transportation and mobility challenges can make it difficult to access needed services. Having a food distribution organization close to home can go a long way in bridging the gap and making healthy, nutritious food more accessible for children and adults.

According to Rosemary Danielson, the food shelf’s Director, approximately 50 families visit the food shelf each month. “Neighbors come from a large geographic area to select healthy food items for their families,” says Danielson. “Support from United Way helps us to keep our shelves stocked for anyone in need.”

These food programs are just two of several nonprofit agencies which have received funds as part of United Way’s Basic Needs impact pathway. Other partner organizations funded under the Basic Needs banner include Advocates for Family Peace, Grace House, KOOTASCA, and Support Within Reach. Partner organizations are selected by an Impact Committee made up of community members and United Way board members who evaluate the Itasca area’s needs and develop strategic goals for meeting the needs of the area and reducing the challenges posed by poverty and violence. These goals guide funding decisions, through which United Way distributes dollars raised through their annual campaign to local nonprofits.

Support through United Way’s Community Investment Grants program helps the food shelf in Bigfork keep its shelves stocked with nutritious food for clients.

Though they use three priority impact areas to guide decision-making, United Way’s model recognizes the way different needs overlap and affect each other. For example, “A child who isn’t getting enough to eat will likely have a hard time focusing in school,” says United Way Executive Director Kim Brink Smith. “A child experiencing food insecurity may need after-school tutoring to catch up, in addition to food and nutrition support. We aim to recognize and meet these interlocking needs, in pursuit of helping families and individuals achieve stability in the long-term.”

United Way’s other priority impact areas are education and health, through which the organization infuses funds and support into out-of-school-time programs, childcare, low-cost medical care, programs for older adults, and more. United Way distributed a total of $74,630 across these programs so far in 2022, helping bolster their ability to serve people of all ages in Itasca-area communities. 

Community Impact Grant recipients include: 

Income & Basic Needs Pathway
Advocates for Family Peace
Bigfork Food Shelf
Deer River Food Shelf
Grace House
Itasca County Habitat for Humanity
Support Within Reach

Itasca Wellness Court
Project Care

Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids and Greenway
Boys & Girls Club of the Leech Lake Area – Deer River chapter
Itasca County Family YMCA
Itasca Youth for Christ’s Campus Life program

United Way of 1000 Lakes aims to make the greatest possible impact by addressing the most pressing needs of Itasca-area communities. Funding priorities are determined and set by a group of volunteers who make up the Community Impact Committee. In recent months, the Committee and United Way leadership have been conducting a Community Needs Assessment that will guide United Way’s impact strategy going forward. Interested community members can stay tuned as the organization rolls out its new investment strategy in the coming months.

For more on United Way’s work, impact, and how you can play your part, visit uwlakes.org.