In 1970, college campuses were a hotbed for protest, but one here planted a seed that kept on giving in Fargo
As the Fargo-Moorhead Emergency Food Pantry celebrates its 50th anniversary feeding those in need, we look back at its humble beginnings from the classroom to its community outreach.
MOORHEAD — Students in 1970 at Moorhead State College probably cared about what most college students did back then - the war in Vietnam, racial justice, and women’s rights. But in Dr. Margaret Reed’s social work class, students also took note of something else — the increasing number of hungry people in the Fargo-Moorhead community.
The group decided what was needed was a local emergency food pantry.
But the idea didn't die when the semester ended. Someone (we're not sure who) got the local faith community involved. From there the pastors and volunteers embraced the concept like hotdish at a church basement potluck — creating what would become the largest food pantry in the region.
But how did the idea evolve and grow? As the Emergency Food Pantry prepares for its upcoming 50th anniversary party, here's how it all happened.
Churches step up
Shortly after that class first discussed its concept of the food pantry in 1970, Pastor Philip Antilla of Moorhead’s Bethesda Lutheran agreed to have shelves built at his church. The next year, the shelves moved to the basement of volunteer Dorla Bernu. However, by 1972, Antilla and Bernu knew they were in over their heads.
"We are ready to serve you and that’s the way it is."
Eight more churches jumped aboard to help. Together they officially created the Emergency Food Pantry. Fourteen more churches became supporting members by the end of the year. The shelves moved to Elim Lutheran Church in Fargo. In a tiny room, not much bigger than a closet, food including flour, sugar and coffee was packaged and stored.
Word gets out
Word was starting to get out in the media that support outside the church was needed. Wayne Lubenow, a popular columnist with the Midweek Eagle, wrote several articles promoting the pantry. What followed were contributions of food, money, and equipment from individuals and businesses and a sizable number of people wanting to volunteer.
Through the next several decades, the community embraced the concept of the food pantry through company and service club food drives and fundraisers, but questions still popped up. In 1981, food pantry secretary Alice Phillips wrote a letter to the editor of The Forum.
To the Editor:
“Who gets the food?” This question has been presented to the Food Pantry people. The answer is simple. Hungry people. When you live in this community, you are our neighbor and if you are hungry, we care. It is important to understand that we are not interested in who signed your paycheck (when you had one) or your politics, or your religion, or whether English is your first language or the color of your skin. We are ready to serve you and that’s the way it is.
Executive Director Stacie Loegering says while the concept of feeding those in need mentioned by Phillips in her letter hasn’t changed, some of the circumstances have.
“In the beginning, we offered food to families experiencing a crisis situation such as a fire, accident or medical emergency. In recent years, we provided food to families in transition such as job loss or transition.”
Over the past 50 years, and after relocating to larger facilities, the Emergency Food Pantry has grown into the largest food pantry in the region serving residents in need in Cass and Clay counties. The pantry provides a week’s worth of nutritional food every other month, up to six times a year. This includes bread, meat, eggs, dairy and a variety of nonperishables: cereal, canned soup, canned fruit, sugar, pasta, peanut butter and vegetables. In 2021, the Emergency Food Pantry connected with 4,800 unique families and provided over 9,300 food baskets.
Loegering says one of the things she continues to appreciate about her work, is being able to connect with previous clients and learn that many have found stability after using the Emergency Food Pantry's services - going from food insecurity to becoming business and community leaders in town.
“I remain passionate about providing food to people because no one can be their best self if they do not have their basic needs met.”
If you go
What: 50th anniversary celebration
When: 3-6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 7
Where: Emergency Food Pantry, 1101 4th Ave. N., Fargo
What: A complimentary picnic meal and cake will be served and tours will be offered throughout the afternoon. A program featuring Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney, Emergency Food Pantry staff and board members (past and present) and representatives from the local Chamber of Commerce will begin at 4 p.m.
What you can do: Guests are asked to bring a nonperishable food item or a cash donation to recognize this milestone.