WEST FARGO — Over the course of about the past year, three organizations have worked together to make possible the West Fargo Eats Pop-Up Food Pantry, which has regularly been setting up shop one day a week every other week in the parking lot of the Lutheran Church of the Cross, located at 1402 16th St E., in West Fargo.

The church, the YWCA Cass Clay and the Great Plains Food Bank have all been instrumental in the success of West Fargo Eats and on Thursday, June 24, another organization — Gate City Bank — joined the effort in a big way.

The bank announced a $120,000 gift to renovate space in a church garage to provide a permanent home for the food pantry.

Lutheran Church of the Cross Lead Pastor Joel Baranko talks about how the garage behind him is being remodeled into a permanent home for the West Fargo Eats food pantry Thursday, June 24, 2021, at the Lutheran Church of the Cross, West Fargo.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Lutheran Church of the Cross Lead Pastor Joel Baranko talks about how the garage behind him is being remodeled into a permanent home for the West Fargo Eats food pantry Thursday, June 24, 2021, at the Lutheran Church of the Cross, West Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

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The pantry will still be called West Fargo Eats, but its supporting organizations will collectively be known as the Food Share Alliance in West Fargo, a first-of-its-kind arrangement in North Dakota, according to organizers.

The permanent food pantry, which is expected to open this fall, will be a choice-based pantry model, meaning people will be able to pick and choose the foods they want.

The Great Plains Food Bank will continue to provide the food that will be distributed by West Fargo Eats and the church, in addition to providing space for the pantry, plans to commit 2.5% of its capital campaign to support the ongoing mission of the food share alliance.

Great Plains Food Bank President Melissa Sobolik, from left, Lutheran Church of the Cross Lead Pastor Joel Baranko, YWCA CEO Erin Prochnow and Gate City Bank President & CEO Kevin Hanson discuss their collaboration Thursday, June 24, 2021, that will give the West Fargo Eats food pantry a permanent home at the West Fargo church.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Great Plains Food Bank President Melissa Sobolik, from left, Lutheran Church of the Cross Lead Pastor Joel Baranko, YWCA CEO Erin Prochnow and Gate City Bank President & CEO Kevin Hanson discuss their collaboration Thursday, June 24, 2021, that will give the West Fargo Eats food pantry a permanent home at the West Fargo church. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Church members will also serve as food relief volunteers.

Thursday's announcement came during a West Fargo Eats event at the church, where Erin Prochnow, CEO of YWCA Cass Clay, explained how the food share alliance came together.

"Over the past few years when working with Lutheran Church of the Cross to build Grace Garden, a

YWCA-supported residence, we identified areas in which we could continue to serve our

neighbors in need and that is when food insecurity was identified," Prochnow said.

Since West Fargo Eats began in May 2020 it has fed a total of about 8,000 individuals with about 131,00 pounds of food, according to the Rev. Joel Baranko, lead pastor at the Lutheran Church of the Cross, which has 2,100 members.

On one Friday alone this past March, the food pantry served 613 individuals in 90 minutes.

"The need was even more significant than we anticipated," Baranko said, adding: "While we knew our efforts were helping, we believed an even greater impact could be made if we offered a permanent solution."

Kevin Hanson, CEO and president of Gate City Bank, agreed.

"We know that for many of our neighbors and their families, a better way of life begins simply by receiving one of the most basic human needs — food," Hanson said.

"We’ve chosen to support West Fargo Eats and the Food Share Alliance financially and through team member volunteer hours, because working together, this effort will make a generational impact in this community," Hanson added.

According to Melissa Sobolik, president of the Great Plains Food Bank, prior to the pandemic the food bank estimated one in nine people in Cass and Clay Counties experienced food insecurity. Since the pandemic the estimate is now one in six, she said.

"As we work to create hunger-free communities in North Dakota, we are incredibly thankful to see this pop-up pantry transformed into a permanent food relief solution," Sobolik added.

The pop-up food pantry operated every other Friday afternoon during most of 2020. The schedule has now changed to every other Thursday.

Hours are typically from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., though they are subject to change.

Future food pantry events are scheduled for July 8 and 22, and Aug. 12 and 16.

The pantry is open to anyone in need, regardless of where they live, Baranko said.

People typically drive through the church parking lot to receive an assortment of foodstuffs. Walk-ups are also welcome.

The arrangement provides for some degree of anonymity, which people value, according to Sobolik.

"It really reduces the stigma and restores their dignity," she said.

To find out more about the food pantry and when it operates, call the church at (701) 282-0514, or visit the church website at: www.lcc-wf.com.