With more than 30 years’ experience, Second Harvest North Central Food Bank considers themselves experts in food procurement and distribution during times of economic downturn and disasters. But never in the history of food banking have they had to deal with the effects of a pandemic. Taking it day by day with the help of Feeding America, other food banks, their committed staff and volunteers, Second Harvest has been working tirelessly to ensure that our hungry neighbors have the food they need. Their mission remains the same but the way in which they do business looks very different and will continue to look different for an undetermined amount of time.

“Shutting down during COVID-19 has never been an option for us but we can’t do business as normal,” said Susan Estee, Executive Director, Second Harvest North Central Food Bank. “When the pandemic hit we took and have continued to take every precaution possible to ensure the safety of our staff, volunteers and participants. We are running 20-30 direct distributions sites called Pop-Up Pantries per month, we are collaborating with regional school districts on ways to continue to get food into the hands of hungry children regardless of what the 2020-2021 school year looks like, we are assisting regional hunger relief organizations as they maneuver their way through COVID-19 distribution guidelines and we continue to do curbside pick-up at our on-site food shelf.”

Distributing almost one million more pounds of food in 2020 compared 2019 while navigating through a pandemic has been an astounding accomplishment. Second Harvest attributes this to having the ability to act quickly on their feet and make the necessary changes when needed.

“It hasn’t been easy but it has become the new ‘normal’,” says Estee “and although we aren’t expecting this to change anytime soon we do have some known challenges to face in the near future.”

As the holidays approach Second Harvest is forced to make a difficult decision regarding the Itasca Holiday Program. Now, in its 25th year, the Itasca Holiday Program has traditionally provided individuals and families, in Itasca County and Hill City, with holiday food items and a grocery voucher. For those with children ages 1-12, they would receive a gift, provided by the community, from the Gingerbread Giving Tree and Toys for Tots. This year Second Harvest will no longer run the Gingerbread Giving Tree portion of the Itasca Holiday Program.

“It has been an agonizing decision to drop the gift portion of the program,” stated Estee. “We realize that families are going to need help this holiday season and we can do that through the Itasca Holiday Program by providing food and a grocery voucher for that special holiday meal but we no longer have the capacity to run the gift portion of the program.”

Second Harvest doesn’t believe the Gingerbread Giving Tree portion of the program has to go away, with assistance from their Development and Marketing Manager, Trisha Zimmerman, Second Harvest is willing to work with community members to transition the gift portion of the program into the hands of a new organization.

“The Gingerbread Tree portion of the program has been perfected for the last 25 year,” says Zimmerman. “It takes a lot of coordination and volunteers but all of the gifts are provided by community members through the Gingerbread Giving Trees and Toys for Tots. It has become a family tradition for many to pick a gingerbread boy or girl off of a tree and give a gift. I want to see this tradition continue and look forward to passing this portion of the program on.”

Second Harvest recognizes this news is difficult for the community but they hope there is understanding that the mission of Second Harvest is ensuring that hungry children, seniors and struggling families have the food they need to stay healthy and strong during this pandemic, through the holidays and the difficult months to come.

If your organization or civic group is interested in the Gingerbread Giving Tree Program please contact Trisha Zimmerman at 218-999-4135.

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