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Mitchell Food Pantry feeds the community

Two grocery carts filled with food sit at the front of County Fair Food Store in Mitchell. The food in the grocery carts is being collected to help provide food for the Mitchell Food Pantry. (Matt Gade / Republic)

At the Mitchell Food Pantry, the phrase "thank you" is said all day long.

It can be heard from someone who is "shopping" for a few pantry items for their home, or from a volunteer thanking another who donated an item.

And within the past couple of months it's been heard even more as the Mitchell Food Pantry is flourishing in its new home at 212 W. First Ave. The organization moved to the new space in January after being housed for more than 30 years in the same location at the Salvation Army. And since the transition, the pantry has served thousands.

In November, the group served 1,005 people, 600 more than it did in its first month of operation at the new location. And according to Karen Pooley, a member of the Mitchell Food Pantry's board of directors, she doesn't see it slowing down anytime soon.

"Everything is just growing, growing, growing," Pooley said.

But what's even more surprising to the group is the amount of donations being brought in. In October, more than 3,000 pounds of food were donated from within the community, tripling the amount received in February — which was fewer than 1,000, Pooley said.

While she doesn't yet know how November fared, Pooley already knows December is "going to be big" as she's heard of dozens of mini-food drives and groups aiming to give back to the community.

One of these food drives includes County Fair Food Store, which began a week ago on Tuesday. The grocer will match up to $5,000 in donations for the Mitchell Food Pantry, according to Justin Luther of County Fair.

As of Monday, the store was at $8,000 in matched donations, and it plans to continue until $10,000 is reached, Luther said.

"We feel blessed to be an active part of the Mitchell community," Luther said. "Mitchell and the surrounding areas have been so good to us, our associates and our families. We want to continue to give back and do our part to help the area."

Luther said it's all thanks to the "generous donations" of several area businesses. And the store isn't alone in giving. Pooley said Walmart and Coborn's Superstore of Mitchell give to the pantry each month, adding up to thousands of pounds of food. And recently they began accepting bagel donations from Mitchell's Einstein Bros. Bagels, adding to the stockpile.

And the donations don't stop there. The Carnegie Resource Center in Mitchell will host its annual Christmas at the Carnegie program at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 14. During the event, the Mitchell Barbershop Chorus will donate $250 to the pantry, and people are encouraged to bring food or cash to donate.

"It's just amazing where food comes from, and who's donating and sometimes you don't even know. Here comes a check in the mail from a business or some office, and it's a lot of people are just willing to help," Pooley said. "The community is so giving, and we couldn't do this without them. It takes a village."

Giving all year long

Just before Thanksgiving, the pantry received a donation of 120 frozen turkeys.

Along with another donation of fresh cranberries, the group organized a giveaway. During this, Pooley recalls one woman in particular, who wasn't dressed well for the cold and windy afternoon. Pooley said they handed her a turkey and cranberries and her gratitude was palpable.

"She was so happy for her turkey, and what she got," Pooley said. " ... They're just thankful, and that's one you think you're doing the right thing."

And many of Pooley's fellow volunteers feel the same way. The Food Pantry was created when several Mitchell churches came together to form the organization decades ago.

But the group is always in need of more volunteers who can help with pick-ups, stocking shelves and shopping alongside the people the pantry serves.

People can also donate food items or monetarily. Cash and check donations, Pooley said, goes to help buy food items from Feeding South Dakota — a hunger relief organization that provides temporary food assistance to individuals and families in South Dakota.

But anything helps, Pooley said, and they're grateful for any support they can get.

"We are thankful for the community of Mitchell. Obviously this December is going to be outstanding," Pooley said, referring to the amount of donations the pantry may receive. "But they've been giving all year long."