Kelley Johnson couldn't help noting the faces of the families driving through mobile food distribution Thursday in Cloquet.

Despite hardships brought upon Northland residents by the COVID-19 pandemic, the perfect weather turned moods as sunny as the day.

"Everybody's smiling and you can tell people are happy," said Johnson, an employee with Duluth's Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank. "We've been doing this for three years in August, and we do it no matter what — below zero, in the snow, out in the rain. So this is wonderful."

Kelley Johnson, agency relations coordinator for Duluth's Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank, loads meat into the back of a vehicle Thursday in Cloquet. (Brady Slater / bslater@duluthnews.com)
Kelley Johnson, agency relations coordinator for Duluth's Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank, loads meat into the back of a vehicle Thursday in Cloquet. (Brady Slater / bslater@duluthnews.com)

The Carlton County Mobile Food Pantry operates monthly, for one furiously busy but well-orchestrated hour.

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On Thursday, a team of volunteers emblazoned by neon pinnies made like a special operations troop. They distributed food to more than 300 households in the hour-plus time it took to finish the last arrivals. They did it all while maintaining social distancing and wearing face masks and gloves while they loaded trunks and backs of vehicles with food.

"We average 250 to 300 households a month," Johnson said. "It's too soon to tell now, but it looks like we'll eclipse 300. We're on the high end."

At least 50 cars were queued up in the brief time the News Tribune was on-site. The vehicles filtered down from five lines into two. The vehicles all received the same foodstuffs — milk, frozen meats, vegetables, and a box of nonperishable pantry items that each included multiple meals worth of food.

Johnson spoke as at least two-dozen volunteers and staff worked hard in the background. She asked that the News Tribune not interfere with the families. She called the amount of food distributed to each household "supplemental," and hopefully enough to tide households until next month.

"The hope is that it will last about a week," she said, behind a face mask and sunglasses, before diving in back to work.

The Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank, which saves by buying food in bulk Johnson said, is asking for monetary donations on its website at northernlakesfoodbank.org, calling the pandemic "a critical time to assist our most vulnerable neighbors."