The Eagan Lakeville Resource Centers' Mobile Pantry will bring hunger relief to the neighborhoods that need it.
The family is hungry and the cupboards are bare. The nearest food shelf is across the county and there's no gas in the car. Or there's no car.
The Dakota County non-profit will roll out the first Mobile Pantry, a refurbished bus stocked with dairy, fruits, vegetables and meats as well as dry and canned goods, on Monday afternoon at Restoration Covenant Church in Apple Valley.
The Mobile Pantry will operate from noon to 3 p.m. and from 6 to 8 p.m. on alternating Mondays at the church's ministry office at 7707 147th St. W. Church volunteers will be trained to refer clients to other services, too.
By spring, staff hope to bring the food bus to four locations each week. Clients still must make an appointment to shop at the Mobile Pantry by calling 651-686-0787.
"What's amazing about Mobile Pantry is that we are able to take food support directly to neighborhoods that need it," said Sarah Schmidt, fresh food coordinator for the Resource Centers. "The greatest obstacle our clients have to accessing food support is reliable, affordable transportation. We all see how expensive it is to fill up our gas tanks. Low-income families don't always have enough money in their bank account to go to the grocery store, much less drive across the county to visit a food shelf. So we are taking food support on the road to those in need, one neighborhood at a time."
The Mobile Pantry is believed to be the first of its kind in Dakota County, said Nancy Wester, community relations manager for the Resource Centers, which operates stationary food shelves in Eagan and Lakeville. After staff tossed around ideas about how to better serve clients, the Mobile Pantry was deemed the best way to go and was started with the help of a $50,000 grant from the United Way and numerous donations.
More than 70 percent of the food available to clients will be fresh and perishable, just as it is at the regular food shelves. The Resource Centers have used 300,000 pounds of fresh food so far this year and 160,000 pounds of dried and canned goods. The food shelves serve more than 1,000 families at the two locations. Forty-nine percent of the clients are children.
"In 2011 we increased the number of households we served by 77 percent," Wester said. "We've seen a 20 percent increase over 2011 already this year."
The biggest contributing factors? "People are not getting jobs, staying unemployed longer or getting jobs where they don't make the same money," she said.
ICA Food Shelf in Minnetonka is one of several in Hennepin County that have a mobile component, and feedback from its clients has been good. The organization serves almost 800 households a month at its food shelves in Minnetonka and Excelsior.
"Oh, it's been amazing," said ICA Executive Director Cathy Maes of the mobile unit, adding that it started last January.
ICA uses a refrigerated box truck that visits low-income senior high-rises in Hopkins and Minnetonka twice a week. Groceries are individually selected for each client and delivered to the building lobby or to their door, Maes said.
"We found out there were a lot of people that didn't know about our services that were purchasing groceries from convenience stores," where the selection is poor and the prices are high.
"We've increased our work 20 percent because of the mobile food shelf and hit an untapped market that we didn't know was there," Maes said.
Pat Pheifer • 952-746-3284