Park Rapids

New lighting helps Hubbard County Food Shelf increase its impact

Generosity, partnership and cost savings

Generous community,
essential service

 

Since opening its doors in 1983, the Hubbard County Food Shelf has provided families in the Park Rapids area with emergency food assistance. As its operations expanded and adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, food shelf volunteers and partners identified energy efficiency projects to save energy and improve the organization’s operations.

We spoke with assistant director Denny Ulmer to learn more about these recent investments, including LED lighting upgrades supported by CERTs.

Photo: Lyle Hildebrandt, a volunteeer at the Hubbard County Food Shelf, packages food for a family of three to four, readying it for home delivery. Credit: Shannon Geisen, Park Rapids Enterprise.

 

The benefit of this project is a more environmentally friendly work area that at the same time provides adequate lighting for our clients and volunteers on a daily basis.

Denny Ulmer, Assistant Director of the Hubbard County Food Shelf

Providing emergency food access

In times of great need, the Hubbard County Food Shelf is there for its community.

In operation since 1983, the all volunteer-run food shelf in Park Rapids provides emergency food at no cost to residents in the surrounding areas through both on-site pickups and deliveries—an essential service during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re here for them,” director Bob Hansen explained to the Park Rapids Enterprise as the pandemic first took hold in early 2020. In an average month, the food shelf serves 400 to 450 families and gives out over 50,000 pounds of food. Its service area includes all of Hubbard County and the Park Rapids School District ISD 309 and borders the White Earth Nation and Leech Lake Indian Reservation.

In addition to providing emergency food access for families in the area, volunteers have been hard at work this year ensuring the food shelf’s building is safe and well-maintained, including making investments in energy efficiency.

 

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Photo: Mural outside the Hubbard County Food Shelf.

Minnesota Power helped with an energy audit and helped us figure out what to prioritize and what to upgrade first.

Denny Ulmer, Assistant Director of the Hubbard County Food Shelf

Identifying and funding clean energy projects

An energy audit helped the food shelf identify which clean energy projects to work on first.

“Minnesota Power helped with an energy audit and helped us figure out what to prioritize and what to upgrade first,” said Denny Ulmer, the food shelf’s assistant director. A retired school administrator, Ulmer has volunteered with the food shelf for five years and leads the organization’s special projects and grant writing efforts.

 

Photo: Sign outside the Hubbard County Food Shelf.

Donations, grants and Minnesota Power electric utility rebates all contributed to making the recent capital improvements and building upgrades possible. 

A Central CERT Seed Grant covered the labor costs to convert all lighting in the building to LEDs, including in the client registration service area, staff work area and administrative offices. The organization worked with a local contractor who had previously provided in-kind electrical services to remove old track lighting and old fluorescent lights and replace them with new LED 2x4 panel lights.

“We’re a nonprofit, so a lot of our contractors donate their labor,” Ulmer explained. “Since this was a special project and our contractor had worked with us and donated labor before, it was a good fit to work with them.”

Keeping building operation expenses to a minimum allows the use of more of our funding for product distribution for our clients.

Denny Ulmer, Assistant Director of the Hubbard County Food Shelf

Energy and cost savings improve impact

Since their installation, the lighting upgrades have had a positive impact on the organization and community.

“The benefit of this project is a more environmentally friendly work area that at the same time provides adequate lighting for our clients and volunteers on a daily basis,” Ulmer explained.

In addition to the visible building improvements, the new lighting and other upgrades have resulted in energy and cost savings that help the organization’s budget, as well.

“We’ve been monitoring our electric bills and we’ve been able to stabilize our costs by converting [our lighting] to LEDs and converting our refrigerators and freezers to high efficiency,” Ulmer said.

“Keeping building operation expenses to a minimum allows the use of more of our funding for product distribution for our clients,” he added.

Ulmer expressed how values of partnership and generosity are key in all of the food shelf’s work and recent projects. He noted the importance of local partners including the Henrietta Township Board, Park Rapids Rotary, Lamb Weston RDO and Open Your Hearts Charities, in particular, and how volunteer efforts and donations from area grocery stores make the organization’s work possible.

“We have a very generous community in Park Rapids,” Ulmer said. “I can’t say enough about our community and community partners.”

Project Snapshot

 
  • Clean Energy Focus: Lighting Upgrades
  • Central CERT Seed Grant: $980
  • Total Project Cost: $1,500
  • Other Funds: Utility rebate, community donations, township funds
  • Project Team: Hubbard County Food Shelf volunteer staff and board members - Bob Hansen, Director; Denny Ulmer, Assistant Director; Dodie Egge, Treasurer.
  • People Involved and Reached: 979
  • Annual Energy Savings: 1,346 kWh
 
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