The Eagan Resource Center will open one in Lakeville on Friday and expand its Eagan operations before the end of the year.
Hungry residents of Dakota County soon will have more places to turn.
"We are responding to a need that is higher than this organization has ever seen it," said Lisa Horn, executive director of the Eagan Resource Center. "The time is now."
The nonprofit food shelf has gone from serving 38 families a month in 2005 to more than 500 families a month in 2010. Most of the clients come from the Burnsville and Eagan areas. With the new facility in Lakeville and the larger pantry in Eagan, Horn said, the combined resource centers are expected to serve more than 800 families a month.
"We're really tackling hunger in Dakota County," she said.
But such ambition comes with a cost, and the Eagan Resource Center is hoping to raise $150,000 to pay for the expansions.
Although financing is lined up, Horn said the center, with fewer than two full-time employees and more than 200 volunteers, would rather pay off the loans and put money into the food budget.
"The most effective way for us to increase our food inventory here is through monetary donations," she said.
The agency is also calling on its volunteers to help get the new facilities going.
A group of Lakeville area residents has led the charge for a new food shelf in that city, asking the Eagan Resource Center to expand and stepping up to help run the facility in the Holyoke Crossing Mall.
"The need for food shelves and these kind of services is growing in the suburbs," said Mary Freeman, one of the Lakeville volunteers. "We are committed to making this work."
In Eagan, renovations of a 3,250-square-foot space at Cedarvale Business Center are underway to set up a small grocery-store-like food shelf that will be known as the Pantry. It will be the main site for food distribution and donation, while the Eagan Resource Center will keep its current office in a house down the street for administration, meetings and client interviews.
In addition to providing more space, the Pantry will also offer a new format. Instead of handing clients a bag of food, the food shelf experience will be more like a regular grocery shopping trip.
The VEAP Food Pantry, the largest food shelf in the state, has used a "client choice" system for the past four years. Households, based on size, are given an allotment of points that are good toward purchases in the grocery store-like pantry in Bloomington.
That flexibility allows clients to choose items that meet specific dietary needs or make items they already have in the cupboards at home last longer, said Karin Meier, development director of the Bloomington-based nonprofit.
"It really allows the client to feel like they have a choice versus, 'Here's the food we were lucky enough to get,'" Meier said. "When you're able to pick things, it really empowers you."
The Pantry in Eagan will have a waiting room at the entrance, a store area with shopping carts and volunteer escorts, and a storage area for donations.
"It's going to improve the service," Horn said, noting that there will be less waste because people won't take home bags that include things they may not eat. "It's also going to provide a more dignified experience."
Katie Humphrey • 952-882-9056