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“I enjoy stuff like this, being part of the organization of it, being able to help people,” she said.
In it for the long haul
Ron Koon, president of the volunteer-driven Centennial Community Food Shelf in Circle Pines, first saw the “client choice” model in action at the White Bear Lake Food Shelf last year.
Centennial doesn’t have the same amount of space to work with, but it’s been able to partly implement the concept since it moved into a larger facility at Circle Pines City Hall in November.
At Centennial, clients start off with bags of pre-packed items, to which they add their choice of bread, fruits, vegetables and meats.
Even operating on a more limited level, the “client choice” concept” is working there. “It gets the client the food they really want, that they’re familiar with and know how to use,” Koon said.
Plus, it makes it easier for the food shelf, labor-wise. “If you look at the process, first you have to stock the shelves. So you have people doing that. Then, if you’re packing up items, you have to un-stock it, too,” he said.
Barb Downs, a director of field services at Second Harvest Heartland, a St. Paul-based hunger relief organization, said the “client choice” concept arose sometime in the mid-90s.
Food shelves “got to the point where they realized they were in it for the long haul,” she said.
They had the space to organize food that way and they wanted to show that they cared about their clients, she said.
Since then, that idea has gained momentum. “More and more food shelves are looking at ways to create the grocery store experience,” she said.
Likewise, local food shelves are trying to offer more fresh produce, something that Second Harvest is aggressively pursuing, Downs said.
That’s part of a larger movement. Society as a whole is starting to address health issues, especially where diet is concerned. “We know we need more fresh fruits and vegetables,” she said.
And, in keeping with that, food shelves are increasingly adding refrigeration equipment and finding better ways to display fruits and vegetables, she said.
Despite job growth in the state, and the fact that the unemployment rate is lower here than elsewhere, many households still are earning less than they did in the past.
As a result, food shelves continue to see double-digit growth in terms of the number of people coming in. “They’re struggling to meet the needs,” she said.
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer.