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John Fjestad Byklum

Helping a family to survive

John Fjestad Byklum

When John Fjestad Byklum hears the sterotype that receiving food assistance is just, as he puts it, a "free hand out," he is quick to explain how much it helps his family of five. "It helps us to survive," he responds. Through his local food pantry and the Great Plains Food Bank BackPack Program, John is able to come up with enough food to feed his family.

John Fjestad Byklum pushed a cart through the warehouse in the Emergency Food Pantry selecting items that will help feed his family. It is crucial that he takes careful consideration with each item he selects. The approach doesn’t come from some specific of his personality, but rather of how important each food item will be for his family of five.

He simply can’t afford for anything to go to waste.

“If we never came here, I don’t know what we would do for the food,” John says. “It is a life saver.”

John operates a forklift for Magnum Transportation where his schedule is often times hectic. He just completed a month of working double shifts where his day regularly starts at 3:30 a.m. yet wouldn’t return home until the evening hours. His wife was forced to leave her full-time job and begin working part-time to help take care of her mother, who had become ill.

Each month it’s difficult for the couple to come up with enough food for their three kids – ages 14 and nine (twins). That is where the family has found the Emergency Food Pantry, a partner agency of the Great Plains Food Bank, has become a crucial resource.

“Some people when we tell them we go to the food pantry, they will ask, ‘why do you go there?’” John said. “They probably think it’s just a free handout. It’s not. It helps us to survive.”

The family has also found a critical resource with the Great Plains Food Bank BackPack Program. During the school year, the children are able to rely on the school lunch program to provide a healthy meal option during the day. But on the weekends and during the summer months when that resource isn’t available, it adds another form of stress to their already difficult situation.

A backpack provided each Friday with snacks and meals helps to ensure the children can return to school on Monday equipped to learn and grow.

“They love bringing that stuff home on Fridays,” John said with a laugh referring to the contents of the backpacks their children receive. “The first thing they do when they get to the door is drop their backpacks and dig that stuff out and start going through it.”

And the appreciation for all of the services that have been provided has not been lost by the family.

“It would be just a huge thank you,” John said when asked what he would say to those that give food and financial donations as well as volunteer time to all of the food assistance services. “I mean it. It helps our family so much.”


© Great Plains Food Bank 2021