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North Dakota State University nursing students clockwise from bottom, Kelsey Fercho, Danielle Ebnet and Ashley Prince unpack food Monday collected by Ellen Hopkins Elementary for the Fill The Dome food drive held at the Fargodome. Michael Vosburg/The Forum

Fill The Dome food drive huge success

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An endless sea of packaged, canned and bagged food items sprawled across the Fargodome floor like a multi-colored tapestry as area students and volunteers scurried about Monday night during the culmination of the third annual Fill The Dome food drive.

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In the end, the numbers from this year's event were staggering: $96,266 raised and 97 tons of food, which easily surpassed the original goal of $75,000 and 75 tons of food.

That's enough food to feed 21,000 people through March.

The food and money gathered will greatly help the influx of people who are in need during this time of year. In fact, the Fargo Emergency Food Pantry feeds "some 35 to 45 families a day," said Linda Clark, who works for the pantry that has served Cass and Clay counties for 37 years.

Since its inception three years ago, Fill The Dome has gathered nearly 300 tons of food and raised more than $150,000.

This year's Fill The Dome goals were "epic," said West Fargo senior Levi Bachmeier.

In the end, however, money and food alone won't be enough to solve the problem of hunger in the community.

"Food drives don't end hunger," Bachmeier said. "They just temporarily postpone it."

To raise awareness about hunger in the region, Fill The Dome decided this year to set a goal of 7,500 signatures in an online pole "signifying our desire to end hunger," Bachmeier said.

As of 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 24, over 2,800 people had signed the petition. Though that is far short of the goal, Fill The Dome will keep the petition going until Thanksgiving in hopes the remaining signatures will come in. To sign the petition, go to www.fillthedome.org.

A host of local and regional dignitaries and officials were on hand Monday to congratulate the hundreds of students from 58 area schools who put on this year's Fill The Dome.

"The main point I'd like to make is: These young people are making a big difference for so many," said North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven. "They are setting aside their scholastic rivalries and coming together as one.

"We could not be more proud of you. ... We talk about North Dakota being a community; you've epitomized that sense of community."

West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern echoed Hoeven's sentiment.

"We would like to congratulate not only the West Fargo students, but all the students," he said. "It is important to raise (hunger) awareness in our area."

Three major sponsors donated the bulk of this year's Fill The Dome money. Gate City Bank and Hornbachers each contributed $20,000 while the Kilbourne Group donated $10,000. Other sponsors included the Impact Foundation, the FargoDome, S&S Promotions and the United Way.

The Great Plains Food Bank distributes the food from Fill The Dome, of which 30 percent stays in the Fargo-Moorhead area while 70 percent goes to a mobile food pantry to help in rural western North Dakota.

The Kilbourne Group's Doug Burgum, the latest recipient of the North Dakota Rough Rider Award, explained that the students who put on Fill The Dome were role models for everyone.

"Beyond the fact that we're tackling hunger ... we've seen a group of kids who look beyond boundaries ... who can collaborate.

"We should look at their example as something to follow."

The impact from Fill The Dome is far reaching.

Former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer explained that Fill The Dome inspired congress and the United States Department of Agriculture to enact the Fight Hunger Initiative, which helps raise awareness and distribute healthy food to people in need around the country.

"It is because of you ... that we have faith in the future," Schafer said.

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