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Local credit union takes aim at hunger

A few years ago, North Shore Federal Credit Union (NSFCU) President Mark Summers approached former Cook County School District Beth Schwartz about the credit union making a donation to purchase school supplies for students in need.

Summers was surprised when Schwartz told him the district didn't really need a donation of that type. He was even more shocked when he learned a bigger problem for students was hunger.

"I was kind of taken aback because you don't really think about that in our area or the state of Minnesota, which is a prosperous state," Summers said. "You think of that as a problem elsewhere in our country. The more I started studying the issue, he realized that it was a problem and realized that the credit union is uniquely positioned to try to help."

NSFCU has more than 9,000 members Lake and Cook counties. As a financial institution, the credit union sign members up for one-time or recurring monthly donations without an administrative fee. Therefore, every dollar donated by members goes to hunger prevention programs.

After Summers spoke with the credit union's board of directors, NSFCU began the Hunger Heroes initiative, which asks its members to make donations that will support food shelves and other programs in Lake and Cook counties. Since the program began in 2016, nearly 300 members have signed up for monthly donations, and many others have made one-time donations. In 2016, NSFCU donated more than $33,000. The Hunger Heroes is on pace to raise $40,000 in 2017.

Throughout December, NSFCU is matching all donations to the Hunger Heroes program up to $3,000, potentially doubling the impact on local communities.

Among the programs receiving money are food shelves in Two Harbors, Silver Bay, Grand Marais and Grand Portage as well as Ruby's Pantry distribution locations in Silver Bay and Grand Marais.

Ruby's Pantry is a nonprofit organization based in North Branch, Minn., that distributes surplus food to rural communities for $20 per share. The shares typically include more than $100 worth of food and is open to to anyone, regardless of income, and the proceeds from the sale are invested back into local communities.

NSFCU also donates to Backpack Nutrition programs in Lake Superior and Cook County school districts. Students who are part of the free and reduced lunch program have food items placed anonymously in their backpacks at the end of the week to ensure they have food during the weekend, Summers said.

"For many kids, the only real consistent form of nutrition they get is provided by our schools," he said. "They go home on the weeknd and they have a hunger problem. This program was started so they could at least go home with something in their backpacks to try to help out."

Donations of money are even more important to food shelves than food donations because the organizations can leverage the money more effectively and purchase food for less money than the general public.

Michelle Miller, director of the Two Harbors Area Food Shelf, said she can purchase food from Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank, for 19 cents per pound — far less than what the general public can. What's more, money doesn't require shelf space for storage or have an expiration date.

"It's not a tremendous amount of work on our part, especially for the amount of good it can do," Summers said. "They can take a dollar and turn it into a really amazing amount of help."

NSFCU has a goal of enrolling 1,000 members in the Hunger Heroes program over the next year. If that goal is met, Summers estimates NSFCU members can nearly double the funding for local hunger prevention programs.

For more information about the Hunger Heroes initiative, go to nsfcu.org.

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb started as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle in August 2015. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and previously worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. He is the beat writer for the Lake County Board of Commissioners, Silver Bay City Council and high school sports in Lake County. 

(218) 834-2141
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