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Boreal Community Media

Grand Marais residents create "52 Week Food Shelf Challenge" to help address food insecurity

Feb 08, 2024 08:05AM ● By Content Editor
Image: Donna and Orvis Lunke

By Laura Durenberger-Grunow - Boreal Community Media - February 7, 2024

Inspired by a similar initiative, Donna and Orvis Lunke have launched the "52 Week Food Shelf Challenge", igniting a year-long community effort to combat food insecurity. Donna's friend, Jody Hepola, started a similar activity for the Two Harbors Food Shelf, and the Lunkes thought it would be something that could make a big difference in the Cook County and Grand Portage communities. 

The year-long challenge encourages residents to donate a specific item each week to local food shelves (using drop-off locations at Gene's Foods, Cook County Co-op, and Johnson's Foods), ensuring a steady flow of essential nourishment and items throughout the year.

According to the Food Insecurity Dashboard created by the University of Minnesota, as of December 2023, 11% of Cook County's residents experience not having enough to eat. What's more, before Governor Walz signed the 2023 law that provided students with free breakfast and lunch in schools, 40% of Cook County students qualified for free or reduced lunch. "Food insecurity is a reality in our community," Donna shared with Boreal Community Media, drawing from her and Orvis's experience volunteering at Ruby's Pantry and the AEOA food distribution - something they've done since each organization began in the area. (For information on local food shelves and other food & nutrition support in the area, see the images at the end of the post.)

To guarantee donations align with actual needs, the Lunkes collaborate closely with Gwen Lenz at the Grand Marais Food Shelf. "Jody shared her lists and ideas with us, and I ran it by Gwen for her input on what they might need, and what they don't," Donna said. The focus in the coming weeks will be on specific needs from each of the Grand Marais and Grand Portage food shelves. "Gwen shared that besides food products, paper goods are always needed, along with hygiene items and can openers so we will be asking for those items in the future," she added. The one thing the food shelves cannot accept are items that are outdated. 

The Lunkes go beyond sharing the specific item each week to the community; they actively collect the contributed items. "We know Gwen and Bill (Gwen's husband) do so much for the food shelf, that we offered to take that task off their plate," Donna says. 

The impact is already building. "The employees at the stores are so excited to see how quickly their bins are filling up through the generosity of our community and can hardly wait to tell us about it when we arrive to do the collection," Donna shared. She added that when she runs into people while out and about in the community, people ask what's on the list for the week. 

If you'd like to participate, you can find the 'item of the week' posted in the Cook County Community Conversation Facebook Group, the Grand Marais MN Community PageThe Laundromat Bulletin Board - Grand Marais Facebook Group, on the Boreal Community Media Facebook Page, or in the Boreal Classifieds

Once you've purchased an item, look for the Food Shelf baskets in the entryway of Gene's Foods (431 E Highway 61, Grand Marais, MN 55604), the Cook County Co-op (20 East First Street, Grand Marais, MN 55604), or Johnson's Foods (5 MN-61, Grand Marais, MN 55604). 

The item for the week of February 4, 2024:

Cook County Food Shelf & Other Food and Nutrition Support Information from Cook County Public Health and Human Services


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