Food shelf serving more families in need with energy savings

February 2020

The Bemidji Community Food Shelf (BCFS) distributes food to just under 3,000 qualifying families in Beltrami County and the Bemidji School District every year.

Their location in the Bemidji Industrial Park is comprised of an office area, a large shopping area, and a warehouse, which together make up 12,480 square feet. BCFS has always had a commitment to sustainability and energy conservation, evidenced by their cutting edge farm project which incorporates composting, water catchment, passive solar and community-supplied mulch.

We talked to Executive Director Mary Mitchell to learn more about their recent upgrade to LED lighting.

Living in an area with an abundance of beauty, it is sometimes easy to forget that there is great need here as well.

Jim Fretheim, Bemidji Community Food Shelf President

Tell us a little bit about your project

Mary Mitchell: We have a Facilities Committee of six who recommended lighting upgrades following a RETAP energy assessment. We had recently upgraded the lighting in a free-standing warehouse and decided it was time to do the same with our food shelf facility. The resulting cost savings benefit the community, as more money will be available to purchase food for area families.

For this project specifically, BCFS wanted to replace its existing fluorescent lighting with LEDs and add motion sensors in the bathrooms and warehouse. In the end, 440 fluorescent tubes (32 watt) were replaced with 440 LED tubes (17 watts) for an annual energy savings of 21,483 kWh and annual energy cost savings of over $2,000.

Lighting project photos

What has been the noticeable impact of the lighting improvements?

Mary Mitchell: The biggest impact has been in the warehouse. In the past, on days we are open, all the warehouse lights were on all day, even if no one was working in all three of the lighting zones. On days we are closed, if someone was working in the warehouse, they would automatically turn all the lights on. The light switches were not in proximity to the door between the store and the warehouse, which meant that one had to walk through the dark warehouse to access the light switches.

Now, all three zones are on sensors and the switches have been eliminated. It has been so great to be able to walk into the dark warehouse and have the lights pop on. Now, only the light zones in which someone is actively working come on. On days we are open, I often see only one zone lit, where in the past it would have been all three.

As an organization that depends on donations from the community, we are always trying to find ways to reduce expenses so that the lion’s share of donations can be directed to food purchases. We have a very large facility so we knew that the lights use quite a bit of energy.

Mary Mitchell, Bemidji Community Food Shelf Executive Director

Would you do it again? Tell us about what you learned.

Mary Mitchell: I think that with the lighting rebate we received from Otter Tail Power and the CERTs Seed Grant for labor costs--not to mention the future energy and cost savings--this was a no brainer. I would encourage anyone with a significant lighting load to do a project like this, as the payback is quite short and the impacts are long-term.

The one thing I had not budgeted for was the disposal of the bulbs. I recommend that this be part of the conversation, as it could be costly. As it was, we were able to find a recycler who charged us a fraction of the disposal fee, but it was still an unplanned expense.

What has been the reaction to the new lighting?

Mary Mitchell: The reaction of the public and our volunteers has been very positive. I hope we have inspired others to do something similar. We had several opportunities to showcase our lighting project. We had two groups tour the facility and talked about the lighting and the CERTs Seed Grant during the tours. I have showcased the project during orientations for at least three groups of volunteers. We also featured the project on Facebook and in our newsletter.

Videos about the food shelf

  • Technology: Lighting upgrades
  • Northwest CERT Seed Grant: $500
  • Total Project Cost: $12,455.37
  • Other Funds: Food shelf funds, utility rebate, donors
  • Project Team: Mary Mitchell and Jack Judkins (BCFS), Gary Haubrich (Haubrich Electric)
  • People Involved and Reached: 9,976
  • Annual Energy Savings: 21,483 kWh


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