With conventions, concerts, hockey games and other events still on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, staff at the the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center recently took stock of the facility's pantry and determined that something must be done to make use of pre-ordered food before it spoiled or passed by expiration dates.

The DECC donated 840 pounds of food to Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank, including cheese, lunch meat, sandwiches and cases of fresh apples. All told, the food should be adequate to put 672 meals on the table for hungry Northland residents in need.

DECC Interim Executive Director Roger Reinert said he hopes Bulldog hockey and other events will be able to return in the near future, and the truckload of food delivered Thursday will represent a one-time donation to Second Harvest. But he acknowledged it's difficult to tell how long it will be before the DECC can welcome guests back and begin feeding them once again.

"We will continue to evaluate the situation," Reinert said. "The next round of expiration dates is a few months out, and I think whether we would make another donation or not would be driven by whether or not we see a partial Bulldog hockey season at some point. If that doesn't happen, we will probably have some additional things we'll want to donate to them in the spring."

Reinert credits DECC staff for planning ahead for events and pre-purchasing food in bulk, when it's most affordably priced. He said they could not have anticipated the impact the COVID-19 outbreak would have on operations.

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Staff were able to donate a significant quantity of food, clearing out freezers and consolidating some of the more stable products into a single unit, thereby allowing the DECC to turn two others off and reduce its electrical consumption.

"Every dollar counts right now," Reinert said.

Second Harvest Executive Director Shaye Moris said regional programs to fight hunger in the Northland have seen an increased demand of about 7% compared with last year.

All told, she said those food programs have served about 6,900 more people so far this year than they did during the same period in 2019.

Reinert referred to the food needs of the region as undeniable and said: "We hope a not-good situation for the DECC can be a gift or a blessing for some families in our community."

Moris has seen an encouraging outpouring of generosity.

"Certainly, I think we and our regional food shelves have seen definitely new donors coming and supporting our work," she said, noting that most of us either know people who have lost jobs or have experienced unemployment personally.

The DECC has been a longstanding partner of Second Harvest, said Food Resource Developer Katie Bull, noting that the facility has provided an average of 15,000 meals each year through its donations.