Four decades of hunger relief
Tony Ingle, an executive at Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota (LSSND), discovered an emerging movement called “food banking” in 1981. The concept was simple – using surplus product from the food industry to feed hungry people – and on March 23, 1983, the Greater Fargo-Moorhead Area Food Bank officially opened it’s doors, distributing 189,000 pounds of food to 21 food shelves and other feeding programs.
The program was soon renamed the Great Plains Food Bank to reflect a growing service area and rising food donations. By 1989, over 1 million pounds of food was recovered and distributed to those in need.
Expanding Services (1990 – 2007)
In 1990, Steve Sellent was hired as the organization’s director. Over the next eight years, services expanded to include the entire state of North Dakota, with distribution reaching 4 million pounds serving 195 partner feeding programs.
The award-winning Daily Bread program was started in 1992 to recover prepared and perishable foods from Fargo-Moorhead area restaurants, hotels, schools, hospitals and grocery stores.
In 1997, the Disaster Relief Program went into action for the first time, providing more than 170 truckloads of food in the aftermath of the 1997 Red River Valley floods.
Following the completion of the $2 million Heart to Hand capital campaign, the organization moved into its current warehouse (1720 3rd Avenue North, Fargo) in 2000. That allowed for additional program growth, with 5.5 million pounds of food distributed to 236 partner feeding programs in 80 communities in 2007 – touching the lives of 1 in 12 individuals in North Dakota and Clay County, MN.
A Bold Leap Forward (2008 – 2016)
Celebrating its 25th year of service in 2008, the Great Plains Food Bank staff and Board took stock of what it would take to move the organization beyond its original mission of “helping alleviate hunger by recovering surplus food to supply charitable feeding programs” to a bold new vision of “creating a hunger-free North Dakota and western Minnesota.”
Following a landmark study of the charitable response to hunger, plans were developed to:
1) add innovative initiatives to grow services to partner food shelves, shelters and soup kitchens.
2) develop an array of new programs to fill geographic gaps by directly serving individuals struggling with hunger for the first time.
The backpack program and summer feeding program were launched to feed kids on the weekends and during the summer. The mobile food pantry and perishable food distribution program were put in place to provide food in rural communities without a traditional brick-and-mortar food pantry. The senior food pack program was developed to assist a growing population of low-income seniors across the state. The food bank also began helping low-income clients access benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) outreach program.
During this 8-year period the GPFB nearly tripled in size, growing from 4 to 11 million meals each year.
At the beginning of fiscal year FY2017 (July 1, 2016), the Great Plains Food Bank became an independent organization after operating under the auspices of LSSND for 33 years.
Ending Hunger (2017 – 2019)
With the dramatic expansion of services in recent years, for the first time in its history the Great Plains Food Bank was able to envision their mission coming to fruition, bringing hunger to an end in North Dakota and Clay County, MN. A strategic plan was adopted for FY2017 calling for reducing the remaining number of meals people were missing by 50 percent over the next five years, on the way to creating a hunger-free service area by 2037. In addition to continuing to expand current services and adding new initiatives like the School Pantry Program, the Great Plains Food Bank also began to focus on reducing the need for hunger-relief services over time by addressing the root causes of hunger through its Ending Hunger 2.0 program.
Evolution (2020 – present)
As the Great Plains Food Bank navigated through COVID-19, we encountered numerous challenges and opportunities and pivoted daily to meet the nutritional needs of more and more people. At the height, we served over 153,000 people with 19.6+ million meals in FY21.
In November 2020 the Great Plains Food Bank opened a second location, the regional service center (1315 S 20th St) in Bismarck. The RSC houses nine employees and consists of a 10,000 square foot warehouse.
Longtime CEO, Steve Sellent, retired on June 30, 2021, and paved the way for the organization’s second CEO, Melissa Sobolik, to lead.
Post pandemic, the GPFB has shifted its business model of completely relying on donated food items to fill our warehouse; with supply chain issues, labor shortages and inflation, the organization had to shift funding and focus on purchasing food. This not only increased the annual budget, but influenced the entire food bank model, logistics and staffing patterns.
40th anniversary video
As we celebrate four decades of hunger relief, watch highlights above from our journey as the only food bank in the state of North Dakota.