Executive Director Susie Novak invited the Hubbard County Board on June 4 to commit a share of the funding to build a new facility for the Crookston-based North Country Food Bank.
Asked to put $35,000 toward a $6 million project, the county board blinked.
The North Country Food Bank serves 21 Minnesota counties. It helps feed hungry children, seniors, homeless people, victims of domestic abuse and recovering addicts. It stocks food shelves, supplies community dinners and helps the working poor make ends meet.
But now the food bank's licensing authority has dinged them about space requirements. Novak said they need to build a 30,000-square-foot warehouse on donated land to keep up with the growing need.
Already committed to the project are $3 million in state bonding, $225,000 from the sale of the food bank's old building, and $1.6 million worth of fundraising as of June 4. At least 12 of the counties served by the food bank have agreed to pay a share of the rest.
Novak called the $35,000 a "big ask" of Hubbard County, but also a "once-in-a-generation, one-time ask" that will transform the way they feed the hungry. She reminded the county board of its previous letter of support for the project.
The food bank sent some 400,000 meals worth of food to Hubbard County last year. Novak said the $35,000 ask is based on that distribution.
How should Hubbard County respond? The answer, in our opinion, is clearly "Yes."
And yet, when a consensus of the five county commissioners was sought, one commissioner said he would be opposed. Commissioner David De La Hunt, whose opposition set the stage for the June 11 work session discussion, said he would not support the project if it were an expansion of services. He also asked some of the toughest questions about it: "When is enough enough?" "Are we solving the systemic problem by putting money here?" He also took issue with some people's definition of success as "more use" of a food shelf.
But commissioner Tom Krueger noted that, until we reach that level of success, people are still going to be hungry.
In a perfect world, a food shelf would help people help themselves, and would gradually eliminate the need for itself. But this isn't a perfect world. The economy is what it is. If you're hungry now, you can't wait for the economy to improve. Meeting their needs is the right thing to do.
As Novak noted on June 4, leaving that need unmet increases costs relating to health care, behavioral issues and worker productivity. So, the caring thing is also the smart thing.
The food bank has been an asset to the county since 1983 without asking anything in return. Now they're only asking us to pay our share. Shall we? It seems to be a no-brainer.