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THAFS recognized as agency of the year

Two Harbors Area Food Shelf executive director Michelle Miller shows off the new walk-in freezer donated by the owners of Dixie Bar, Restaurant and Bottleshop. (News-Chronicle photo by Jamey Malcomb)1 / 2
(from left) Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank agency relations coordinator Kelley Johnson presented Two Harbors Area Food Shelf board member Mary Prestidge, executive director Michelle Miller and board member Jackie Rennwald with the 2017 Agency Partner of the Year award. (News-Chronicle photo by Jamey Malcomb)2 / 2

Two Harbors Area Food Shelf has plenty to celebrate after a month where the food shelf was recognized as Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank's partner agency of the year for 2017 and increased its frozen storage capacity by 15 times thanks to a donation of a walk-in freezer.

On Sept. 28 as part of Hunger Action Month, Second Harvest agency relations coordinator Kelley Johnson presented the award to executive director Michelle Miller and a group of THAFS volunteers during their monthly meeting at Two Harbors Federal Credit Union. Johnson cited the food shelf's innovation, food rescue program and commitment to serving families in need in the Two Harbors area.

"You continue to change and grow, we can't keep up with you," Johnson said. "There's always something different that Michelle is sharing with us. It's wonderful. You guys have sought out ideas and information from other network programs and you have secured a new walk-in freezer this week."

THAFS works with Kwik Trip and Super One on its food rescue program and also serves more than 130 families in the area each month. In addition to its work with local business partners, THAFS also runs a pop-up food shelf to allow people who can't make it to the weekly distribution days to still access the food shelf's services.

Miller put much of the credit for the growth and evolution of THAFS to the dedicated team of volunteers that help ensure as many people as possible are served each week.

"To be recognized, out of 180 other food shelves, we just do our day to day business and try to do the best that we can," Miller said. "But to be recognized that we are doing something out of the ordinary and we're making things work... hopefully our visitors are seeing the improvements and that their experience here continues to be a positive one."

While not receiving the same amount of attention, the donation of a walk-in freezer by the owners of Dixie Bar, Grill and Bottle Shop probably has a greater impact on the ability of THAFS to serve the community.

Dixie was tragically lost in a fire in 2016 and the owners decided to reopen as a food truck. The walk-in freezer at the restaurant was undamaged by the fire and after making the decision not to reopen as a restaurant, Scott and Deanna Larson donated the large freezer that will allow THAFS to store 15 times the amount of frozen food as it could previously.

Before getting the freezer set up to cool frozen donations and rescues, though, THAFS had to have some help from community businesses to get the freezer to the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency building, where the food shelf's pantry and offices are located. Two Harbors Towing transported the freezer to the AEOA building and Advanced Tech Construction poured a concrete slab to place it on. What's more, Agate Electric and Cooperative Light and Power donated the labor to hook the freezer into the electric system at the building.

Miller said the increased storage space for frozen goods is really hard to comprehend. In the past Miller has had to turn down donations of food down in the past because she simply didn't have space to store it. Miller said now she will be able to truly take advantage of a Wal-Mart State Giving program grant to purchase larger quantities of frozen food.

"I have to make a judgement call with what I want to use our freezer space up with and now I don't need to make those tough decisions," Miller said. "We're going to be able to offer more and more variety and not just variety, but a variety from the food groups. With the holidays right around the corner, this community, historically, has been amazingly supportive and we'll be able to accept more donations during the holidays in a one time shot."

While she loves donations of food, Miller said donations of money are still more valuable to the food shelf than actual food donations. Cash donations don't require storage space or have an expiration date and, even more important, THAFS can access food at Second Harvest for 19 cents a pound, allowing a monetary gift go further than donations of food.

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, Lake Superior School District board of education and high school sports in Lake County. 

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