Churches, schools and organizations have long partnered with the community in offering free meals, such as the monthly community dinners that are now in a drive-thru fashion and packaging backpacks for students to have meals over the weekend. And with the pandemic continuing, the organizations have again worked together to provide meals.


"It’s been really humbling to see the kind of outreach something like this can do for people."

— Brittany Springer


Food Distributions

On an afternoon when two food distribution events were happening, the packaged meals at Immanuel Lutheran Church still went quickly with about 50 meals out of 600 left within an hour of starting. The Verndale Family Life Church also had their third Farmers to Families food drop with 931 boxes available, which quickly go each time.

“The cars really couldn’t pull up fast enough,” said organizer Brittany Springer about the November food drop.

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The food distribution events aren’t about how quickly the food can be distributed, as Immanuel Lutheran Church lead pastor Rev. Nate Loer said, but about remaining “attentive to those ongoing needs.” When all the meals had been distributed the volunteers stayed to greet people who came and give them groceries that had been donated. Loer said one family had driven from an hour away to receive the meals.

“It’s been pretty awesome to see how God can use this tool to bless the community and … we’ve seen a lot of people coming through and being very grateful and saying, ‘Oh, thank you now I can eat this week,’” Springer said.

Cars lined up for a country mile, or roughly 50 vehicles long, waiting for their turn at a free box of food from the Verndale Family Life Church, which distributed food from the Farmers to Families food box program Tuesday, Dec. 15.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
Cars lined up for a country mile, or roughly 50 vehicles long, waiting for their turn at a free box of food from the Verndale Family Life Church, which distributed food from the Farmers to Families food box program Tuesday, Dec. 15. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

The line of at least 50 cars in Verndale and groupings of cars steadily coming through along with a line before 4 p.m. in Wadena also points to a “big need” in the community, as Loer said.

The meals at Immanuel were prepared and delivered by Hilltop Regional Kitchen and Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, who received a grant from the Minnesota Department of Education for 90,000 meals. Participants received 3 frozen and two bag lunch meals per person. The church was grateful for the opportunity and their parking lot to host it, as Loer said of the “unified effort” including other community organizations.

“We’re going to continue to be a congregation that looks for those ways that we can be at work in our community, trying to answer those needs and really just do whatever we can to walk alongside of people who are hungry,” Loer said. The church also partners with the local Meals on Wheels.

The Farmers to Families food drop is a United States Department of Agriculture program of food boxes including protein, produce and dairy, funded through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. The program comes as one of many Verndale Family Life Church has participated in over the years, including having a food shelf available on Mondays and Thursdays, according to Springer.

The uncertainty of 2020 with families being in quarantine, losing a job or being furloughed are just some of the reasons the food distributions are important, as Springer said.

“It’s been so uncertain, so a small gesture of a couple of boxes of food per family to be able to ease the minds of people for a couple of weeks has been really great for this community,” Springer said.

Both Springer and Loer are looking forward to future distributions, though none are scheduled. The USDA has not released information on further funding as of Dec. 17. The programs are beneficial for reasons beyond finances such as accessibility, as Loer said.

“There’s a lot of things that make it difficult for folks to get access to good and nutritious meals, and so just being able to have those things packaged and ready to go, we’re just glad to be a part of it,” Loer said.

Adult Food Program

The chance to earn a grant from MDE for offering meals to adults in the community is one Sebeka Public School District nutrition manager Chris Burlingame is glad she took. Adults receive breakfast and lunch in to-go boxes that are picked up from the school. The meals are the same as those served to students.

“I had a single mom, 4 kids, she’s like ‘I don’t know how I was going to feed my kids,’ and it just gives you goosebumps,” Burlingame said.

Sebeka School District food service staff Nancy DeVriendt (cook, left), Chris Burlingame (nutrition manager), Laura Cusey (cook) and Johanna Fowler (cook) prepare meals for students and adults registered for the MDE program.
Photo courtesy Chris Burlingame
Sebeka School District food service staff Nancy DeVriendt (cook, left), Chris Burlingame (nutrition manager), Laura Cusey (cook) and Johanna Fowler (cook) prepare meals for students and adults registered for the MDE program. Photo courtesy Chris Burlingame

The district received a $36,125 grant out of being offered $42,986, as business manager Holly Paulson said in an email. The community response has been “amazing,” as Burlingame said, with approximately 75-100 adults receiving meals daily.

“I realize with COVID going on and a lot of families being out of work or having to quarantine that they’re not getting the paycheck that they’re used to getting. So I know families are depending on it,” Burlingame said.

Paulson anticipates the grant funds will not be fully used and will be returned to MDE if not used by Dec. 30, though Burlingame noted their hope for an extension on using the funds. The last day meals can be picked up is Dec. 21 based on the school calendar.

For each of the programs, “It’s been really humbling to see the kind of outreach something like this can do for people,” as Springer said.


"It just gives you goosebumps."

— Chris Burlingame


Food Shelf Information

Food shelves and pantries in the area are open with safety measures in place, such as drive-thru options.

  • Sebeka Area Food Shelf: Thursdays 5-7 p.m. by appointment; Phone number: 218-472-3288; Address: Rear entrance at 100 S Jefferson Ave, Sebeka

  • Verndale Area Food Shelf: Mondays and Thursdays 9 a.m.-12:30p.m. and 1st Thursday of the month 5-7 p.m.; Phone number: 218-451-9768; Address: 402 NE Clark Dr., Verndale

  • Wadena Area Food Shelf: By appointment on Mondays and Thursdays; Phone number: 218-631-7605; Address: 205 Aldrich Ave SE, Wadena