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Published November 25, 2012, 11:30 PM

Feeding families in need

Student group delivers pounds of surplus potatoes from NDSU research to families across Upper Midwest
FARGO – Whether they go by the name “Taters for tots” or “Spuds for buds” the mission is the same.

By: Angie Wieck, INFORUM

FARGO – Whether they go by the name “Taters for tots” or “Spuds for buds” the mission is the same.

Both refer to a group of students who have made it their mission to deliver excess potatoes grown by North Dakota State University researchers to families in need across the upper Midwest.

James Steinberger, one of the group’s organizers, says they work best when they fly by the seat of their pants. While they may be loosely organized, they have been very successful.

The group has delivered approximately 19,000 pounds of produce to 23 different counties so far this year. Last year they donated nearly 50,000 pounds in all.

The effort began when Alan Zuk, an assistant professor in the Plant Sciences Department, suggested it as a service project to students living in NDSU’s Churchill Hall.

Zuk was aware of research potatoes that may go to waste unless a home and means for delivery could be established.

According to Asunta Thompson, associate professor and potato breeder at NDSU’s Potato Research Building, ongoing donations to groups such as the Great Plains Food Pantry and the Emergency Food Pantry have been established by different potato research program members, but space constraints make it difficult to donate the entire harvest locally.

Steinberger, a crop and weed sciences major from Kenmare, N.D., was especially interested in the project. He saw it as a way to help residents from his community who had recently suffered the devastating effects of Souris River flooding.

The project continued to grow after initial deliveries to the Souris River Valley.

A delivery of 5,000 pounds of potatoes was made to the Williston Head Start program, and 1,500 pounds were delivered to a Spirit Lake Indian Reservation food pantry.

Steinberger says a lot of time has also been spent making smaller deliveries to shut-ins, disabled people, veterans and other smaller groups in need.

Students volunteer their own time, vehicles and gas money to make deliveries.

This year Steinberger expanded beyond delivering potatoes. He also helped secure 2,500 pounds of dry edible beans from NDSU to be used in a collaborative service project designed by Barb Witteman, an education professor at Concordia College.

Education majors taking her social studies methods class are required to teach students about service projects.

Under their tutelage, Washington Elementary fifth-graders packaged and attached cooking instructions to nearly 1,000 pounds of dry, edible beans, which were then delivered to area food pantries.

Zuk and Thompson worry what will happen to the program when Steinberger graduates this year.

They hope another student will be driven to lead and build upon the success the program has achieved over the last two years.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Angie Wieck at (701) 241-5501