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At Fargo Little Caesars, extras go to homeless shelters

Inspirational sticky notes fill a wall at Little Caesar's Pizza in north Fargo. The notes are attached to boxes of pizza delivered to the Salvation Army, New Life Center and Dorothy Day House.David Samson / The Forum1 / 3
A donation box and message is displayed at Little Caesar's Pizza in north Fargo.David Samson / The Forum2 / 3
Little Caesar's Pizza shop owner Mike Stevens.David Samson / The Forum3 / 3

FARGO — No matter how you slice it, the owner of a north Fargo pizza shop and his customers are filling a need - —and many empty stomachs — in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

For the last year, Little Caesars at 1020 19th Ave. N. has donated pizzas that overstayed their 30-minute hold time in the shop's "hotbox." They are given to three homeless shelters — the New Life Center and Salvation Army in Fargo and the Dorothy Day House in Moorhead, owner Mike Stevens said.

To top it off, customers add money to a collection box that has paid for about 54,000 slices for the homeless in the last year, Stevens said.

The pizzeria, which opened in May 2015, sells pizzas hot and ready for as little as $5. Initially, if no one purchased a pie within 30 minutes of it being made, it was tossed. Then employees were given the leftovers. But once employees grew tired of eating the pies, Stevens cast about for another way to avoid wasting food.

He called the New Life Center, a shelter for homeless men in north Fargo.

"We'd love it!" was the answer Stevens got.

Stevens then bought a freezer to store the pies.

"If you reheat them, they taste great!" he said.

The arrangement worked, but with plenty of pizza still to spare, Stevens added the Dorothy Day House in Moorhead and Salvation Army in Fargo to his donation list.

A customer found out about the donations and asked to chip in some dough toward more pizzas. Now a donation box sits by the cash register. Fifty cents pays for the cost of a slice.

The response has been astonishing, Stevens said. "It's gotten so big. Our customers love it,"

Customers can also write notes of hope and encouragement.

The brightly colored sticky notes on a wall by the cash register recently included messages such as "From 1 vet to another," "Hello! Hope you'll enjoy it! Love," and "Don't give up! You are special."

The notes are affixed to the boxes of donated pizzas, Stevens said.

He is not the only business owner with an eye on feeding those in need.

Breadsmith, Panera Bread, Erbert and Gerbert's Sandwich Shop, Great Harvest Bread, Sandy's Donuts, Olive Garden, Granite City, Nichole's Fine Pastry and other businesses regularly donate food to area shelters or food banks. In addition, farmers and gardeners bring in fruit and vegetables at harvest, shelter and food bank workers said.

The Daily Bread Program of the Great Plains Food Bank also supplies shelters, soup kitchens and food banks throughout North Dakota and Clay County, said Communications Manager Jared Slinde.

That program recovered nearly 2.6 million pounds of surplus meals and perishable goods in 2016 from grocery stores, bakeries, restaurants, hospitals, colleges, schools and grocery wholesalers in Fargo-Moorhead and the Bismarck-Mandan areas.

In the F-M area, Hornbacher's, Cash Wise Foods, Food Services of America, Sam's Club, Wal-Mart and Target each donated more than 100,000 pounds of food to Great Plains in 2016 alone, Slinde said.

Stevens said the program has taken on a life of its own.

"It just started out as an afterthought. And it just feels like it's getting a lot bigger," he said.

Stevens said he also learned a lesson about those who are homeless.

"You realize the vast majority of them are like you or I. They they are just down on their luck," he said. "The stereotypes start going out the window."

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including K-12 education, Fargo city government, criminal justice, and military affairs. He is currently one of The Forum's business reporters.

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