FFEN recently had a chance to ask John Leikness, executive director of The Bridge Pantry food shelf, questions about their mobile pantry program. The Mobile Pantry allows the Perham, MN based food shelf to serve clients in areas that were once out-of-reach for their operations. FFEN hasn't worked with The Bridge Pantry in the past but was recommended to visit as they are a great example of an innovative mobile program in rural MN. We look forward to continuing to learn from and collaborate with their work.
Here’s what John had to say:
First of all, what is the Mobile Pantry? Can you describe its facilities, staff and operations for our readers?
• The Bridge Mobile Pantry was part of our Outreach Initiative serving the outlying towns of Dent, Ottertail, Richville and Vergas. We heard from local churches that there were people in their communities that found it difficult to come to the Perham location to obtain food primarily due to transportation issues. Thus, we began the Bridge Mobile Pantry in January 2017 traveling to these towns on the first Tuesday and Wednesday of each month. Four volunteers go out once a month setting up at a local church or public building.
• The Bridge Pantry received a Mobile Food Shelf Grant from Hunger Solutions MN at the end of 2016 to purchase a modified Ice Castle fish house that is ADA capable. The grant funding was intended to help reach people in need that could not access local food shelves due to a variety of issues such as hours of operation or lack of transportation.
• The Bridge Mobile Pantry is currently serving over 40 families per month, 30% which are seniors. Over 70% of these families had not previously visited the Perham Bridge.
How do you see the mobile pantry as complementing the operations of The Bridge Pantry?
• The Bridge Mobile Pantry complements the Bridge Pantry by extending our reach to outlying communities. This outreach has also benefited the Bridge Pantry by increasing our Public Relations and, frankly, generating additional donations to fund our overall mission.
Were there any lessons or insights you took away from its development?
• A learning for us was the significant number Seniors we reached. About 8% of the people visiting our main location are Seniors. As mentioned previously 30% of the people visiting the Mobile Pantry are Seniors. Modifying the Ice Castle Fish House to be ADA compliant turned out to be a fortuitous decision.
What lies ahead for the mobile pantry program?
• Since our traffic has increased significantly over the last two years, we are closely monitoring it’s growth. If the trend continues, we may need to expand hours or add extra days. Further down the road we could also entertain the idea of expanding to one or two other remote communities.
FFEN Board Member Carolyn Kohrs shared the following reflections after her visit to The Bridge Pantry in September: The Bridge Pantry is a wonderful example of a local food shelf that has transformed and expanded to meet the needs of their community. They operate a friendly and happy place where clients and volunteers thrive. Their operations are professional and effective and their expanded hours and very progressive mobile pantry are reaching previously unserved populations. John and his team at the Bridge Pantry generously share best practices and progressive ideas to promote the overall betterment of the system. FFEN is grateful to be partners in hunger relief with this stellar organization.