Officials with regional bodies focused on economic opportunities hope the additional dollars will be available for a successful broad-based food distribution effort by 2020.
From June to December last year, 14 food distribution events took place in International Falls, providing food boxes to people in need. Spearheaded by the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency, or AEOA, and KOOTASCA Communicty Action Inc., this effort is funded by the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, or CFAP.
“We are not sure whether the program will continue,” Scott Zahorik, executive director of AEOA, told The Journal this week. “It may take a week or two before we know more.”
Looking back at the food distributed in 2020, Zahorik said the efforts started with what he described as random phone calls.
“We started hearing about (CFAP) and reaching out to the food distribution people mentioned,” he said. “We want to see if that is possible in that area … The first conversation is to get 250 boxes to make it happen.”
Although 250 boxes seemed like a lot, but doable, Zahorik soon learned that the agency needed to take the entire half price box of food to distribute.
“We really took a sip,” he said. “That’s 1,456 boxes of food.”
Still motivated to make it work, AEOA officials began reaching out to regional partners, such as KOOTASCA, to see if food could be more spread out. The stars align and the first food truck arrives at International Falls June 18.
The uncertainty in distributing the nearly 1,500 boxes of food was quickly reduced.
In International Falls alone, 14 distribution events provided 2,383 lunch boxes for community members. Combined, the boxes weigh nearly 60,000 pounds.
“(The effort) really produced a life of its own,” said Zahorik.
Zahorik praised Ginger Romosz, KOOTASCA and other staff for the role they played in distributing food to the residents of Borderland. He also expressed his appreciation to Rainy River Community College staff for using the parking lot during the distribution event.
Since the first phone call to the end of 2020, Zahorik said 40 small trucks containing 62,655 boxes of food had been distributed to 84 different communities in northeast Minnesota. Its total weight exceeds 1.3 million pounds of produce, meat, cheese, dairy and more.
“We are amateurs in the food game and that really turned into something,” said Zahorik.
Zahorik said he hopes the program can continue and noted that people are “used to this”.
“The need is enormous,” he said.
He commended volunteers from various organizations in their respective communities for helping with distribution efforts as well as for those who offered to volunteer to help with the continuation of the program.
To date, more than $ 24,000 has been raised to help expand this effort.
“It’s great to see people pulling in line for food and making donations to help this continue,” said Zahorik. “The value of these boxes is about $ 30 per box, making the value of food that comes to northeastern Minnesota nearly $ 2 million on its own.”
Zahorik said once again information about whether the program continues is available, he will contact partner agencies to resume spreading the word.