The Salvation Army filled a void as demand increased.
Maplewood resident Bryanna Soares, loading three bags of groceries into a friend's vehicle Thursday, was thrilled she had enough food to feed her three young children.
Soares used to get soup, tuna, chicken and household staples from the North St. Paul Area Food Shelf until that agency stopped serving Maplewood residents on June 1. Soares and about 160 other Maplewood families had no place to turn.
Enter the Salvation Army, which last week opened a new food shelf to serve residents in Maplewood's 55119 ZIP code who might otherwise have gone hungry.
"It's good they opened this up. Without it I don't know what I would do," said Soares, whose children are 3, 5 and 7. "I'd be in a real bind."
The North St. Paul Area Food Shelf opened 30 years ago and gradually expanded its territory to include Oakdale and Maplewood. As the economy soured in recent years, as many as 370 households taking 30,000 pounds of food each month came to the food shelf. Half of those households came from Maplewood. The agency didn't have enough volunteers to sort the food and pack boxes that would be distributed to clients. At times things got so hectic that some people could not even get an appointment.
In December, the North St. Paul Food Shelf said it would no longer serve Maplewood.
"Our volunteers were overworked," said Linda Zick, director of the North St. Paul Area Food Shelf, who said her help consists mainly of seniors and church and youth groups. "We have been open Tuesday evenings to try to catch up with the number of people calling for appointments. Because we will be serving just two communities now, we hope to keep up with the many calls we receive."
Major Jim Curls of the Salvation Army's Lakewood Worship and Community Center at 2080 Woodlynn Av. heard about the North St. Paul decision and went to work to fill the gap.
"They do a great job over there, but because of their high volume they knew they had to cut back," he said. "Maplewood was a piece they could break off easily. We thought, if that is going to happen, let us step up and do the food shelf here."
Opening what is believed to be the first food shelf in Maplewood, Curls transformed part of an equipment room in the back of the gymnasium into a room with shelves stocked with nonperishable items. The food shelf has a small refrigerator but no freezers. He hopes to have grant dollars for freezers by July.
During the first week in Maplewood, clients had to fill out paperwork to register and to acclimate to a new building, a new routine and new faces.
"Because we are brand new, we have to form new relationships with just about everyone we serve and that will be ongoing for the first several months," said Salvation Army social worker Lynnette Medcalf.
Clients will see a familiar face in Steve Simpson. He used to volunteer in North St. Paul. But since Maplewood is closer to home in White Bear Lake, he's joined the Salvation Army's cadre of 15 helpers who do everything from checking people in to helping clients fill their shopping lists to carrying groceries to their vehicles.
"By serving others, we serve the Lord," Simpson said. "We don't just give out food. We give encouragement. To see people in need and help, it is a blessing to them and a blessing to us."
Zick said she's grateful for all of her volunteers, and for the Salvation Army for helping Maplewood residents.
"We were never going to leave them high and dry," Zick said. "Thankfully, [the Salvation Army] came to our rescue."
Tim Harlow 651-925-5039