Mobile food carts aim to make hunger a thing of the past in Brainerd area - Brainerd Dispatch | News, weather, sports from Brainerd and Baxter

NISSWA — When looking to feed families in need, one needs to put themselves in a position to provide easy access to those meals. And that is exactly what The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes has done with its mobile food stations.

Founded in Nisswa in 2012 as Kids Against Hunger-Brainerd Lakes Area, The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes is a humanitarian food aid organization with a packaging facility in Nisswa looking to feed those in need in the Brainerd lakes area. Iphone 11 Package

Mobile food carts aim to make hunger a thing of the past in Brainerd area - Brainerd Dispatch | News, weather, sports from Brainerd and Baxter

In August, after delivering a supply of food to the Relationship Safety Alliance, Tina Foster, community coordinator for The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes, wanted to have their food available to everyone without the need to ask for assistance and came up with the idea of putting the food on a mobile cart.

The idea was to put the carts in entryways and places of high traffic where people in need could easily access them without needing to make a special trip to a food shelf.

“We’re really just trying to put the food where people are and that's our goal, to just really make the food accessible to all,” Foster said.

The organization said they realize there are often stigmas associated with food shelves and there are also people with limited means to access food programs as they often have limited days and times to access food.

“We have to change that mentality that people think that it's a shameful thing,” said Shawn Hansen, executive director of The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes. “There's no shame in going to a food shop. That's what it's there for. It's there for you whether you only need it one time, or you need it five times, or you need it for a long time. That's why they're there.”

Hansen said they started to think about people who do not have transportation to get to a food shop, what other means can be used to get food to people in need and what resources are needed to conduct mobile distributions.

“Not everybody has a vehicle to get in that line to go to a mobile distribution,” Hansen said. “Not everybody has a means to get to the food shelf when they're open on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. So this concept can work anywhere. Mobile distributions don't have to coincide with anything else.”

The carts are set up to be used without the need to talk to anyone, completely self-serve in locations where people of need often visit, such as Alex & Brandon Child Safety Center, Relationship Safety Alliance, Head Start, Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen, Crosby-Ironton School District, The Bridge on 7th Overnight Shelter, Lighthouse Beginnings and Pine River/Backus Community Meals. Foster and Hansen said the program looks to expand into other areas as organizations reach out with open spaces.

The organization packs 10 different meals which are able to serve six people at 30 cents each, or $1.80 per bag.

The program is funded by local organizations and businesses in the area and receives no government funding for buying food. Hansen said as much as she would like to receive funding from the government, they often put many restrictions on how food they fund can be distributed and who can receive it.

This, she said, goes against The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes' mission of feeding everyone, regardless of sex, religion and financial status.

On Tuesday, Dec. 7, members of the Crosby-Ironton School District were in The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes warehouse in Nisswa packing food to bring back to their community.

Helping to pack food on Tuesday, Wendy Gindorff, a Title 1 reading and math teacher for the Crosby-Ironton School District, said she feels fortunate to be able to help others.

To pack food at The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes, Hansen said organizations will donate money for the food they plan on packing and can either take the food and distribute it themselves or donate it to the program to distribute it to one of the local food shelves they serve in the area, such as the new food carts.

Hansen said they often have organizations reach out to them to fund and pack food for their communities or to donate to the program to distribute as they see fit.

The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes is willing to work with any group, any day of the week, Hansen said, as they often have a Rotary group that comes in to pack early in the morning or are able to stay open late to make everything available to those who have to work during the day.

While the primary focus for The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes will be to continue to package meals at the Nisswa facility, they will also do remote packaging — going out to destinations and facilitating packing events with businesses and organizations.

Later in the month, the program will be setting up a mobile packing station at Crow Wing Power as they will have all their employees take a turn packing food throughout the day.

Hansen said the organization started after its founder, the late John Poston, volunteered to work for Central Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge.

“He was driving van loads of guys from Brainerd down to the Twin Cities, Coon Rapids, so they could pack food for Feed My Starving Children,” Hansen said. “After he'd done that four or five times, he was like, ‘Well, this is dumb. Why am I driving them all the way down there?’ There's two things about this area that I think could support something like that. He knew that people were willing to volunteer their time and he assumed that there was enough money in the Brainerd lakes area to be able to fund it. So he bought this building and cleaned it up.”

When the organization started, the primary focus was shipping food to international countries for hunger relief efforts.

In 2016, as the charitable program continued to grow, they looked to reconstruct themselves into an organization to distribute more meals at home and in November 2019, changed the name to The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes.

Today, 80-90% of all food packaged in the Nisswa location is shipped within an approximate 100-mile radius of Brainerd. The remaining 10-20% is distributed for humanitarian and international needs. In August, the organization sent 38,016 meals to Maui, Hawaii, after they suffered immense losses due to wildfires.

Those looking to find out more about The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes or to donate to the program can reach out to Tina Foster at or find them on Facebook at .

Mobile food carts aim to make hunger a thing of the past in Brainerd area - Brainerd Dispatch | News, weather, sports from Brainerd and Baxter

Iphone 8 Plus Shipping Box TIM SPEIER, staff writer, can be reached on Twitter @timmy2thyme , call 218-855-5859 or email .