Mary Lu Larsen sifted through bags of apples, greens and sunflowers before arranging them on tables in the Steve O’Neil Apartments lobby in Duluth's Central Hillside. It’s meant to look like a grocery store, said the CHUM-Steve O’Neil kitchen and garden program coordinator.

The bounty of fresh and free vegetables is compliments of CHUM.

This spring, the food shelf partnered with 10 regional farms from Duluth, to Esko, to Bayfield, to bring 43 weekly community-supported agriculture shares to its clients at the food shelf, at Steve O’Neil and on the Iron Range, said Scott Van Daele, CHUM director of distributive services.

The shares — equivalent to nearly 4,800 pounds of food — were funded in part by CHUM’s March campaign that brought in nearly $221,000.

Scott Van Daele, distributive services director with CHUM, left, moves a box of food items inside the downtown CHUM food shelf at 120 N. First Ave. W. in Duluth on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, while Mary Lu Larsen, kitchen and garden program coordinator with CHUM-Steve O’Neil Apartments, organizes items for delivery to the Steve O'Neil Apartments.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
Scott Van Daele, distributive services director with CHUM, left, moves a box of food items inside the downtown CHUM food shelf at 120 N. First Ave. W. in Duluth on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, while Mary Lu Larsen, kitchen and garden program coordinator with CHUM-Steve O’Neil Apartments, organizes items for delivery to the Steve O'Neil Apartments. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

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Van Daele said everyone from the clients to the volunteers were excited and surprised to see the goods, sometimes so fresh it had dirt on it or roots still attached.

On delivery day at the food shelf, people show up about 8:30 a.m. The produce is usually gone by the time they open the doors at 10, Van Daele said.

“To see the reaction of folks that aren’t having to scrounge through one or two bad bananas or a half-pint of strawberries or blueberries that obviously have gone south. … It was an incredible luxury for our clients here and clients down at Steve O’Neil,” he said.

Amber Pelfrey, a tenant at the Steve O'Neil Apartments, right, assists Mary Lu Larsen, kitchen and garden program coordinator with CHUM-Steve O’Neil Apartments, with unloading food items picked up from CHUM's downtown food shelf Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
Amber Pelfrey, a tenant at the Steve O'Neil Apartments, right, assists Mary Lu Larsen, kitchen and garden program coordinator with CHUM-Steve O’Neil Apartments, with unloading food items picked up from CHUM's downtown food shelf Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Wednesdays are produce days at Steve O’Neil apartments. The second delivery is from CHUM and local farmers; the first is food bank leftovers.

“It’s unsellable is what it is,” said Amber Pelfrey, Steve O’Neil resident.

“I don’t typically get stuff on Wednesdays because I have a sensitive stomach and digestive tract,” she added, but that’s changed through CHUM’s pilot program.

Pelfrey said the CSA shares have added quality food for her and her 7-year-old son, Lukas.

Lukas Wieland, 7, stands in front of his mother, Amber Pelfrey, while holding a bag of sunflowers in the front lobby at the Steve O'Neil Apartments in Duluth on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
Lukas Wieland, 7, stands in front of his mother, Amber Pelfrey, while holding a bag of sunflowers in the front lobby at the Steve O'Neil Apartments in Duluth on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

They’ve relished in the deliveries of cantaloupes, onions, potatoes, “beautiful carrots,” greens and lettuce. With it, Pelfrey has cooked many vegetable stir fries this summer, and last week, she made beef stew.

Pelfrey said she is moved by the efforts of local farmers and the food shelf.

“Knowing someone cares enough about us to do that. That people want to get good food to families in poverty that need it. … More than anything, it’s the kindness,” she said.

Up to 18 families use food distribution each week, Larsen said, but that may increase with different distributive timing. If folks come through during the first delivery, they’re not likely to come through a second time when the CSA shares arrive.

Amber Pelfrey, a tenant at the Steve O'Neil Apartments, left, assists Mary Lu Larsen, kitchen and garden program coordinator with CHUM-Steve O’Neil Apartments, with organizing food items picked up from CHUM's downtown food shelf Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
Amber Pelfrey, a tenant at the Steve O'Neil Apartments, left, assists Mary Lu Larsen, kitchen and garden program coordinator with CHUM-Steve O’Neil Apartments, with organizing food items picked up from CHUM's downtown food shelf Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

“Food security is something we are always addressing,” said Amy Switzer, Steve O’Neil director.

When CHUM reached out about the pilot program, Switzer and staff were immediately on board.

“It’s been very rewarding to see the growing interest in foods they normally would not be able to purchase for themselves,” Switzer said.

“Everybody deserves to be on an equal playing field for food and nutrition,” Van Daele said.

Mary Lu Larsen, left, inspects a basket of peppers from area farmers at the downtown CHUM Food Shelf at 120 N. First Ave. W. in Duluth on Sept. 22, 2021, as Scott Van Daele, distributive services director with CHUM, looks on.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
Mary Lu Larsen, left, inspects a basket of peppers from area farmers at the downtown CHUM Food Shelf at 120 N. First Ave. W. in Duluth on Sept. 22, 2021, as Scott Van Daele, distributive services director with CHUM, looks on. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

While it was a successful first year, it came with unpredictability.

“If I was a banker, I probably wouldn’t loan money for this,” Van Daele said. “It’s risky, and this year we all knew the risks that were beyond anybody’s control.”

The collaboration reflects the spirit of community-supported agriculture; the community reaps the benefits and shares the inherent agricultural risk of potential crop losses. With the spring/summer weather conditions — a late freeze, a drought and bug infestation, things didn’t go according to plan for the farmers.

“You were sort of battling the elements with them,” Van Daele said.

Britt Miller, a chemical health social worker with St. Louis County, left, helps Mary Lu Larsen organize a table with food items in the front lobby of the Steve O'Neil Apartments on Sept. 22, 2021.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
Britt Miller, a chemical health social worker with St. Louis County, left, helps Mary Lu Larsen organize a table with food items in the front lobby of the Steve O'Neil Apartments on Sept. 22, 2021. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

It’s a partnership and investment that supports the community and local agriculture.

“It’s been an incredible experience getting to know the farmers, getting to know their lifestyle. Hearing the ins and out and their highs and lows. It Becomes like the clients we service, they become family to the food shelf,” he added.

He hopes to be able to offer this again next year, and he is looking at trying to increase the CSA shares, which may be a challenge as many farms have already sold out, Van Daele said.

“To be able to have this program and get produce that’s quite frankly, second to none, organically grown, and small-farmed, is something that none of us have ever encountered," Van Daele said.

Mary Lu Larsen looks through some of the produce items at the downtown CHUM Food Shelf in Duluth on Sept. 22, 2021.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
Mary Lu Larsen looks through some of the produce items at the downtown CHUM Food Shelf in Duluth on Sept. 22, 2021. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

CHUM adds delivery service, seeks Thanksgiving donations

October marks the launch of CHUM’s food box delivery service to different Duluth locations.

From 11 a.m. to noon Tuesdays, the CHUM van will drop as many as 20 boxes of nonperishables — meat, bread, milk and produce. It’s free, and first come, first served.

Pickup locations include:

  • Tuesday: Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, 219 N. Sixth Ave. E.

  • Oct. 12: Westminster Presbyterian Church, 9030 Beaudry St.

  • Oct. 19: Tri-Towers Apartments, 222 N. Second Ave. E.

  • Oct. 26: Steve O’Neil Apartments, 115 W. Fourth St.

This service is another pandemic-driven evolution for the food shelf, which has changed from an on-site grocery store-style operation to packing food boxes for pickup and adding CHUM2GO, a household delivery service for those unable to pick one up.

Last year, CHUM distributed 391,340 pounds of food to 6.7% of Duluth’s population, and this service is aimed at widening its reach, according to a press release.

Also, with November around the corner, CHUM is kickstarting its Thanksgiving efforts.

The food shelf aims to provide 300 meals for Northlanders in need.

Mary Baumgartner, food distribution coordinator with CHUM, gestures while at the downtown CHUM Food Shelf in Duluth on Sept. 22, 2021. Baumgartner assisted Mary Lu Larsen with loading food items for a delivery to the Steve O’Neil Apartments.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
Mary Baumgartner, food distribution coordinator with CHUM, gestures while at the downtown CHUM Food Shelf in Duluth on Sept. 22, 2021. Baumgartner assisted Mary Lu Larsen with loading food items for a delivery to the Steve O’Neil Apartments. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Last Thanksgiving, the food shelf saw 466 children and 63 seniors in search of support, according to a press release.

It is getting more difficult to acquire goods as prices go up, said Scott Van Daele, distributive services director.

“And we still have to be able to give it away for free," he said.

CHUM is seeking help from individuals, businesses, community clubs, congregations and others. Contact Van Daele for more info or to donate at 218-727-2391 or svandaele@chumduluth.org.

CHUM’s Thanksgiving grocery wish list

  • 300 turkeys: $6,390

  • 25 cases of sweet potatoes/yams: $744

  • 300 boxes of stuffing: $597

  • 25 cases of green beans: $365

  • 25 cases of cranberry sauce: $477

  • 25 cases of macaroni and cheese: $234

  • 300 boxes of mashed potatoes: $750

  • 300 jars of gravy: $387

  • 25 cases of canned pumpkin: $1,434